Minnesota Gophers assistant coach Grant Potulny is officially a Yooper. Potulny has been named head coach at Northern Michigan University, replacing veteran Walt Kyle. He will be only the third head coach in NMU history.
Potulny thus continues a career as a great leader, both on and off the ice. He just completed his eighth season as assistant to Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, including a raft of conference championships, two NCAA Frozen Four appearances and a championship matchup. Potulny helped guide 11 former Gophers to National Hockey League careers. He also helped guide USA hockey’s teams to several medals in international competition.
On the ice, Potulny was the only three-year captain in modern Gopher hockey history and the first since 1947. He tallied 116 points in 147 games wearing the Maroon and Gold and help lead Minnesota to back-to-back national championships in 2002 and 2003.
“Grant is very deserving of the opportunity to be the next head coach at Northern Michigan University,” Lucia said. “He’s had a tremendous career at the ‘U’ as a player and as a coach, and it’s been enjoyable to watch him grow. There’s no question in my mind that he’s ready to be a head coach. Grant’s a great family man, and he and his family will be a tremendous asset in their move to Marquette.”
Potulny takes over a program that had reached legendary status under former head coach Rick Comley. Comley, who took NMU to Division I status in 1976, remained at the helm in Marquette for more than a quarter of a century before departing for Michigan State. He won the NCAA national championship in 1991 at Northern and again in 2007 with the Spartans, one of only three head coaches to win the national championship at two different schools. The Wildcats have had somewhat less success under Kyle, who overcame health issues to helm the program until this spring and notched several winning seasons.
Potulny’s departure means yet another Lucia alum has moved into a D-I head coaching position. Now, what about Mike Guentzel? For whatever reasons, Guentzel – tabbed by many hockey people as prime material for a head coaching position – has remained at his alma mater, coaching the defense and serving as Lucia’s associate head coach. Speculation concerning Lucia himself and how much longer he’ll stay behind the bench is largely academic. He recently agreed to a contract extension and isn’t going anywhere.
Meanwhile, up in Marquette, Potulny will make his mark through his ability, leadership and personality. Recruiting in the Upper Midwest just got a lot more challenging. He has work to do right away. The Wildcats won only 13 games this past season and finished eighth in the ten-team WCHA. They managed only 93 goals while giving up 108, numbers you can expect to turn around pretty fast under the new bench boss.
Everyone in Gopher Country sends best wishes to Grant and his family – and we hope not to encounter you on the ice any too soon.
DOUG McLEOD is a five-time Emmy Award-winning play-by-play announcer for Fox Sports and a longtime voice of Division I and NHL hockey. This is his 21st season calling Golden Gopher hockey games.