ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Area natives star in return to home state

Danny Irmen spent two minutes of the second period in the penalty box being berated by University of North Dakota students bedecked in Sioux jerseys. A charging penalty put the Minnesota Gophers right wing in the box.

Danny Irmen spent two minutes of the second period in the penalty box being berated by University of North Dakota students bedecked in Sioux jerseys. A charging penalty put the Minnesota Gophers right wing in the box.

The berating is keen for any player wearing maroon and gold, but it gains intensity whenever Irmen or teammate Ryan Potulny spend time sitting with their backs to the UND students at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Both are North Dakota natives - Irmen from Fargo and Potulny from Grand Forks - and both played for Red River High School in this hockey-crazy city.

Not only did both players turn their backs on the beloved hometown hockey program, both chose to play for the hated Gophers. Traitor is not a strong enough word.

"It was pretty ruthless in there," Irmen said.

Irmen got a chance to be ruthless right back.

ADVERTISEMENT

When he stepped on the ice as his penalty expired, the junior received a gift. A clearing pass from linemate Ryan Stoa wound up directly on Irmen's stick, leading to a clear breakaway on Sioux goalie Jordan Parise. Irmen's backhand goal gave the Gophers a 2-1 lead.

In celebrating this fortunate turn of events, Irmen skated toward the now-silent UND students and tugged at the "M" on the front of his jersey. A little payback for the barrage of insults.

"Just trying to show a little Minnesota pride," Irmen smirked.

The final was 4-3 in favor of the Gophers on Friday night, and while the story of the game was Minnesota's defense finally showing some grit after an embarrassing sweep by Wisconsin last weekend, a nice little sidebar was a productive homecoming by Irmen and Potulny.

Irmen finished with the goal and two assists, one of which came on a Potulny goal.

"They're coming back home, they're going to play hard and they're excited," Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "We talked about that in our team meeting. They have to lead the charge."

Lucia put Irmen and Potulny on the same line for the first time this season. The two were linemates often their first two seasons, but Lucia split them up this year to spread their experience among an incredibly young team. But with the Gophers losing three (and possibly four) players to the World Juniors at the end of this month, Lucia got a jump on remaking his lines.

How did it work? Less than a minute into the game, Irmen chipped a pass to Potulny in the slot and the center took advantage by rifling the puck past Parise for a 1-0 lead and an all-important quick start for the Gophers.

ADVERTISEMENT

"There's chemistry there you can't deny," Potulny said. "He set it up on a tee for me, all I had to do was put it in the net. He's unselfish like that. We work good together."

Irmen missed nine games with a broken finger. He's been back for seven games now, scoring three goals and notching four assists. But even Irmen was held pointless against Wisconsin in last weekend's pair of defeats at Mariucci Arena. After Lucia put the Gophers through a week of difficult practices, there was no question the Gophers had a little extra juice in their skates against the Sioux.

"You always want to play well coming back home in front of your friends and family. But after being embarrassed by Wisconsin last weekend, it was important to come out and play hard," Potulny said. "We showed grit and worked hard. It was a gritty game and we came out and played hard as a team and played together well as a team."

So were there family reunions planned for the Irmen and Potulny clans after the victory? Both families were well-represented at Engelstad.

"I'm going to say hi and go back to the hotel," Irmen said. "All business."

This Minnesota pride stuff is serious. Particularly for a pair North Dakotans crossing enemy lines to come home.

Forum sports columnist Mike McFeely can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 10 a.m. to noon on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or mmcfeely@forumcomm.com

What To Read Next
Get Local

ADVERTISEMENT