Potulny the Pick for Northern Michigan
Former Gopher 'Can't Wait to Get Started'
CHN Staff Report
Minnesota assistant coach Grant Potulny was named new coach at Northern Michigan today.
Potulny, 37, was a member of the Gophers' national championship teams in 2002 and 2003. He was the program's first three-year captain since 1947, and graduated after the 2003-04 season having scored 68 goals and 114 points in 146 games.
"I did not know Grant before this process started," NMU athletic director Forrest Karr said. "I saw his resume in with all the others. It looked interesting. We talked about him at our first meetings. I started making phone calls. The more I heard the more I liked. One thing in particular jumped out — after playing at Minnesota, the people who know him best, are most familiar, know what he's about and what he prioritizes, understands the price it takes to have success — they brought him back. They brought him back when he was young, didn't have a ton of experience, and trusted their program and recruiting to him. And he's done an outstanding job in every way."
Karr said he was impressed that Potulny demonstrated attention to detail, great interaction with the current players, and had an organized plan for the NMU program going forward.
"There will be no uncertainty," Potulny said. "They will be able to entrust that every day they know what they're getting out of (the coaching staff). I know players want to be coached, want details, and want consistency. That's the one thing they will get every day out of me.
"If you're going to build something together — the word culture gets thrown around a lot. Culture to me is family, it's trust, it's belief. How do you create culture? With people. I'm inheriting a program with great culture. It's time for me to put my spin on it."
Potulny thanked his mentors at Minnesota, including head coach Don Lucia.
“Grant is very deserving of the opportunity,” 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.”
The Northern Michigan position was open for five weeks since Walt Kyle was let go at the end of the Wildcats' season. There were ultimately five finalists for the position, including other current assistants. Among those was Northern Michigan alumnus Dave Shyiak, a former head coach at Alaska-Anchorage and currently an assistant at Western Michigan, and was believed to be the frontrunner. Another NMU coaching alumnus and WMU graduate, Brian Renfrew, was also in the running at one point.
Potulny signed a deal for five years, with final financial terms still to be determined. Kyle was making $170,000 in the final year of his contract. [it was later determined that Potulny's deal is for $196,100 per year. — ed.]
Potulny was famously the first non-Minnesotan to be recruited by Don Lucia after he became head coach of the Gophers in 1999. He was also the first three-time captain at Minnesota in over 50 years.
The Grand Forks, N.D., native went on to become a hero of the Gophers' 2002 national championship team, when he scored two goals in the national semifinal win over Michigan, then followed it up with the overtime game winner against Maine in the national championship game. He was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
He went on to play five pro seasons in the AHL, then retired and returned to Minnesota to become an assistant coach, where he's been since.
Potulny has also been an assistant coach on two U.S. World Junior teams (2013, 2017), winning a gold medal both times. He was also part of multiple championship teams in high school and the USHL.
"I was asked, 'What do you enjoy about coaching?'" Potulny said. "I love touching (players') lives. You get to take a young person that is coming into their own in the world, and you get to take four years to mold them into being outstanding people in the community.
"I think it's important if you're going to be excellent at something ... you have to be excellent at everything. It's about doing everything the right way. You want to be able to go to school, get good grades — not because it's what I say, but because it's the right way to do it."
Though Potulny's hire has been near-universally praised, the concern going forward will be whether he has the resources to compete. Northern Michigan's budgets for assistant coaches and recruiting have been among the lowest in the WCHA.
"The foundation is in place. But to regularly compete for conference championships, there are no shortcuts," Karr said. "It's going to take more than hiring a new leader for the program. It will take total commitment from the team, and from all of us in supporting the program."
Known as a top recruiter at Minnesota, Potulny said he wants to take advantage of Northern Michigan's larger ice surface, just like he did with the Gophers. He will have his work cut out for him; so far three incoming recruits rescinded their commitment after the coaching change, and went elsewhere.
"I think you can recruit speed to the rink and have a competitive advantage at home," Potulny said. "We want to build from speed. We want this place to be a hard place to play. The best compliment any coach can say about your team is they're hard to play against, and we're going to be hard to play against, and I can't wait to get started."