Monday, April 17, 2017

Grant Potulny to be named Northern Michigan head coach

Minnesota assistant Grant Potulny is heading to the Upper Peninsula become the next head coach of Northern Michigan.

Northern Michigan has scheduled a press conference for 10 am ET/9 am CT Tuesday morning (April 18, 2017) to announce its third head coach in program history. The Wildcats fired Walt Kyle last month after 15 seasons behind the bench.

At just 37 years old Potulny will be the youngest head coach in the WCHA.

The Grand Forks Herald was first to report.

Potulny reportedly beat out WMU assistant Dave Shyiak and Winnipeg Jets scout Brian Renfrew, previous NMU assistants, for the job. He had been an assistant under Minnesota head coach Don Lucia for the past 8 seasons, primarily working with the team's offense and power play in addition to recruiting.

In that time with the Gophers, Potulny and the team took home six consecutive regular season conference titles and advanced to a pair of Frozen Fours (2012, 2014). This past year ended with Minnesota's offense finishing fifth nationally with 3.71 goals per game and a 25.2% power play. (Minnesota was the highest-scoring offense in the nation in 2012-2013 with 3.48 goals per game.) Tyler Sheehy became the highest-scoring Gopher forward since Grant's brother Ryan in 2006.

Additionally, Potulny twice was an assistant on Team USA's World Juniors team. Both tournaments (2013, 2017) with him saw the Americans take home its only gold medals since 2011.

Several players on the WJC teams, such as DU forward Troy Terry, spoke highly of him.

As a player the Grand Forks, ND native became the first non-Minnesota native to suit up in over 20 years, eventually being the team's only three-year captain since 1947. Most famously he scored the game-winning goal for the Gophers to win the 2002 national championship.

It's been a tough go of late for the Wildcats, which won the 1991 national title under Rick Comley in St. Paul. Northern Michigan went 13-22-4 in 2016-2017 under Kyle and finished eighth in the WCHA. NMU has not had a season above .500 since 2011-2012 nor made the NCAA Tournament since 2010.

Financial terms are currently not known although Kyle earned $170K after renegotiating his contract. That rate would be a step up for Potulny, who earned $105K as a base salary this season, according to Eric Vegoe of Gopher Puck Live.

Potulny will have to move quickly with the Wildcats. Northern Michigan lost three of its six incoming freshmen in the time since Kyle was fired. Casey Gilling chose Miami. Kale Howarth went to UConn and Luke Jaycox last week committed to St. Cloud State. College Hockey Inc's website lists one commit scheduled to come in beyond next season.

Potulny departure leaves a hole on the staff of Lucia, who signed a two-year contract extension prior to the 2016-2017 season that would take him to the end of the 2018-2019 season.

The team did have Corey Millen as an undergraduate assistant this season. Millen, who previously served as head coach of the Minnesota Wilderness (NAHL), spent this year finishing his bachelor degree (a must for any college hockey hire) in "recreation, park and leisure studies." Ben Gordon also returned to Minnesota after three seasons as an USHL assistant, where he helped Tri-City win the 2016 Clark Cup, to serve as director of operations. While either would make for an easy transition, there is always the possibility of finding an external candidate.

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