Grant Potulny officially left behind the Gophers hockey program Tuesday morning when he was introduced as Northern Michigan's head coach.
Potulny, 37, spent the past eight seasons on the Gophers bench as an assistant coach and led the program’s charge on the recruiting trail. He also has experience winning on the ice as a former three-year captain for the Gophers and two-time national champion.
Northern Michigan athletic director Forrest Karr said Tuesday he was especially impressed by Potunly’s ability to consistently recruit top talent and his understanding of what it takes to succeed. Potulny is just the third coach in the program’s 42-year history.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge and looking forward to the opportunity and looking forward to coaching teams that can make everyone proud,” Potulny said at Tuesday’s press conference.
“I think this is a place you can win. … That’s what enticed me right away. But when I came in, I got to meet everyone and see the passion they have for this program is just infectious. And that’s where you want to be. It’s not only important to the community, but to everyone involved with university.”
Potulny, who grew up in Grand Forks where North Dakota hockey is part of the community’s identity, felt the same support in Marquette, Mich., for the Wildcats.
Potunly thanked the Gophers men’s hockey program Tuesday, specifically former athletic director Joel Maturi, current AD Mark Coyle, associate director Tom McGinnis and coach Don Lucia for their role in his development as a coach.
“Don is one of the winningest coaches in college hockey history. He’s got 700 wins and won with three different programs. But the one thing about Don is he’s a wonderful, wonderful human,” Potulny said. “The way that he led that program is the way that he’s led every program he’s been at. It’s been with class. And I’ve learned from him and I’m going to try and lead this program the exact same way.”
Northern Michigan is one of the few programs in college hockey that plays on an Olympic-sized rink like the Gophers. Potulny said he intends to use that to his advantage and recruit players with speed.
“We tried to build our teams at Minnesota the same way. Try to build speed,” he said. “I think you recruit to the rink. … Speed kills.
“We have the ability to play on an Olympic sheet and it should be a competitive advantage, especially down the road when you get some guys that you think play the style you want to play.”
Potulny avoided answering questions about the new job being viewed as stepping stone to prepare him for the Gophers head coaching job when it becomes available one day. Potulny responded by saying he and his wife were already looking at homes in the community and his kids would be involved in local youth sports.
“Eight years ago, I had just returned from the University of Minnesota interviewing for an opening as assistant coach. There were a multitude of guys that had way more experience in hockey,” Potulny said. “I had never coached and was coming in after being a player … and they were going to hire me at one of the premier programs in college hockey. It was all about the fit. … And the fit is right today… That is more important than any other number.”
Potulny will replace Walt Kyle, who was fired in March after coaching the Wildcats for 15 seasons.
Potulny was a three-year captain for the Gophers, leading them to back-to-back NCAA championships in 2002 and ’03. His overtime goal against Maine in the 2002 NCAA final at Xcel Energy Center gave the Gophers their first national championship since 1979.
With Potulny as an assistant, the Gophers have won six consecutive conference regular-season titles — the past four in the Big Ten and two before that in the WCHA. Minnesota advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four in 2012 and 2014. Potulny worked primarily with the Gophers forwards. Potulny also was an assistant coach for the gold medal-winning U.S. team in the World Junior Championship this year.
Lucia thanked Potulny for his service to the program in a statement released Tuesday.
“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.”