Potulny shuffles off to Buffalo

NMU head coach heads to World Junior Championships

14 Oct 16: The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers host the USA Hockey National Team Development Program in an exhibition matchup at the Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis, MN.

MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University hockey team may have gotten some much-needed time off over the weekend for the holidays, but its head coach will remain coaching — just at a different level.

Starting Wednesday, Grant Potulny was serving as an assistant coach with U.S. National Junior Team as it competes in the IIHF World Junior Championships in Buffalo, New York. The U.S.’s first game is tonight at 8 p.m. EST against Denmark.

This will be the third time he has been a member of the coaching staff, and both previous times, the U.S. finished with a gold medal.

In a phone interview last Tuesday while he was on a bus to New York, Potulny said he was grateful for the opportunity to coach the team for a third time and is happy this time it’ll be played on American soil. He’s also looking forward to the big game between the U.S. and Canada that will be played at New Era Field, the home of pro football’s Buffalo Bills on Friday.

“It’s just an honor,” he said. “For me, any time that they would offer me that opportunity, just like any other coach, you jump right at it.

“I’ve been part of one in Russia and one in Montreal and to play on your home soil is really special. That outdoor game against Canada is going to be one for the ages.”

Potulny will be reunited with St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko, who was the head coach of last year’s gold medal-winning squad. He says that he and Motzko have similar offensive philosophies and that it’s a great fit.

“I think the coaching staff, we all see the game the same way,” Potulny said. “We want to play fast and make plays, no different than how we coach our own teams. We’re all up-tempo teams that want to play offense and that’s how we’ll coach this group.

“When Bob was named head coach, he had the latitude to choose his staff and I think you want to be around guys that kind of see the game the same way you do. Especially in the short term, because there’s not a lot of time for banter back and forth.”

While Potulny is in Buffalo, NMU will spend its time on the road as well, just in the opposite direction. The Wildcats play at Minnesota State this weekend, then travel to Nevada for the Ice Vegas Invitational on Jan. 5-6.

Even though his focus during that time will be on getting the U.S. another gold medal, Potulny said he’ll be keeping a close eye on Northern.

“You miss those guys, but (NMU assistants) Byron (Pool) and Rob (Lehtinen) are great coaches,” he said. “They’ll do a great job with the team and I’ll talk with them every day and follow them closely, watching the games on WCHA.tv, so I’ll stay up to date with what’s going on.”

He may end up missing his main squad, but Potulny is looking forward to spending another season coaching some of the best young talent in the nation.

“It’ll be a great experience,” he said. “Every year is different and the last two times I’ve been fortunate enough to be on a team that’s won gold both times.

“The first year, we had to win to get into the medal round and we couldn’t score in the preliminaries, and then all of a sudden, we got hot.

“(Calgary Flames forward) Johnny Gaudreau put on a show and we rolled through the medal round. Then last year, we didn’t lose a game the whole tournament.

“Each time you hope to get the same outcome, but there’s different ways to get there.

“This year will be no different. There will be great games and there will be ones where we could probably play better. The hope is that at the end of the tournament, when it matters the most, you’re playing your best hockey.”

Considering that the Wildcats are playing their best hockey in quite awhile, the U.S. team should be in good hands with Potulny.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.