Two Gophers remain in hunt for Lord Stanley’s Cup


Mar. 22, 2013; Uniondale, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Paul Martin (7) and New York Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo (21) battle for the puck during the third period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Penguins won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the storied history of the University of Minnesota men’s hockey program, there has been plenty of Stanley Cup caliber talent.  Sometimes talent can only take you so far and you need some luck on your side. There have been seven “lucky” Gophers that have hoisted the cup in their life as winners and maybe after this year there could be one more.

As the 2013 NHL Conference Finals began Saturday night, there are two players remaining that have a chance to win the cup as alumni of the Maroon and Gold. Defensemen Paul Martin (Minneapolis – Pittsburgh Penguins) and Nick Leddy (Eden Prairie, Minn. – Chicago Blackhawks) have been solid players on the blue line all year for their teams and each play for the No. 1 seed in their respective conferences.

Martin and the Penguins face-off against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference. Leddy and the Blackhawks are taking on the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in the Western  Conference.

The last Gopher alum to win the cup was defenseman Alex Goligoski (Grand Rapids, Minn.) in 2009 when he was then with the Penguins. Goligoski played just two games in the Penguins playoff run that year, but appeared in over half of the team’s games that regular season, which qualified him to have his name on the cup. Though he was a healthy scratch, he did skate on the ice with his teammates after defeating the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 that year to make a lap with the cup.

Before Goligoski, it was Ben Clymer (Bloomington, Minn.) in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. After not playing in the first three games of the Stanley Cup Finals series against the Calgary Flames, Clymer played the last four games for the Lightning on their way to the cup win.

Mar 16, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy (8) skates in the Dallas Stars zone during the game at the American Airlines Center. The Blackhawks defeated the Stars 8-1. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

If Tampa Bay did not win in 2004, the number of winners would  have still been at six total Gopher winners then as Jordan Leopold (Golden Valley, Minn.) was a member of the Flames and would have had his chance with the cup. Leopold, the 2002 Hobey Baker winner was in the playoffs this year with the St. Louis Blues, but his year ended in the first round by the hands of the LA Kings.

Of the 16 NHL teams in the playoffs this season, half of the teams had a Gopher skate for them. It is an impressive number as Minnesota puts out more and more NHL players every year. Since the start of the 2010 NHL season, 20 former Gophers have skated in the big leagues.

With Martin and Leddy still playing this year for arguably the most prestigious trophy in sports, the Gophers hope to get an additional name on the trophy. A tradition that no other pro team sport does with their championship trophy.

The five other former Gophers to have their name engraved on Lord Stanley’s Cup were teammates Neal Broten (Roseau, Minn.) and Tom Chorske (Minneapolis) in 1995 with the New Jersey Devils, the first Gopher to land on the cup Mike Polich (Hibbing, Minn.) in 1977 with the Montreal Canadiens, and goalie Frank Pietrangelo (Port Robinson, ONT) and his coach “Badger” Bob Johnson (Minneapolis) in 1991 with the Penguins.

Johnson also had his name added to the trophy in 1992 when the Penguins won the their second straight cup. He passed away in November of that season due to brain cancer and was honored by the team.

Other Gophers have been a part of organizations that won the cup, but did not play in the cup finals or enough regular season games to qualify for addition. Including Chris McAlpine (Roseville, Minn.), who played 24 games in his rookie season with the eventual champion Devils in 1995. In addition, Jeff Taffe (Hastings, Minn.) played eight games with the Penguins in 2009, but watched from the press box with Goligoski during the series.

The luck-factor that was brought in to question about getting your name on the cup was “unlucky” for Gophers alum Blake Wheeler (Robbinsdale, Minn.). Wheeler was a member of the 2011 champion Boston Bruins and played 58 games for the champs in the regular season. In February of that year, he was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers alongside Rochester, Minn. native Mark Stuart (Colorado College) and had to watch the Bruins win the cup without him.

"In a Nov. 2011 interview with NESN, Wheeler said “It was gratifying, but it was hard at the same time. You want to be a part of it, but you certainly take something out of it just watching the guys you played with for a few years. That was the hardest part getting traded, I knew, Stuey and I both knew, that it was a very real possibility that was going to happen. To see it come true was kind of a mixed bag of emotions. I’m certainly happy for all the guys. They work harder than anyone and they certainly deserved it.”"

Wheeler led the former Thrashers, now Winnipeg Jets, in goals this season and his team was the first Eastern Conference team out of the playoffs. He will have to also wait until next year to get a chance at the Stanley Cup.

The luck can be maddening for talented hockey players that get so close to a NHL Championship. With Leddy and Martin in prime position, Gopher hockey fans may be crossing their fingers for a Penguins vs. Blackhawks finals. Then no matter what team wins the finals there could be a trip to Dinkytown with the famous sliver prize.

The cup has been to campus before. When Clymer won the title in 2004, he spent his traditional day with the trophy all around the Twin Cities. After a dinner reception at Olympic Hills Golf Course in Eden Prairie, he rolled up to Sally’s Saloon & Eatery in Stadium Village in a stretch Hummer limo and allowed patrons of the on-campus hot spot to drink out of the most coveted beer pitcher in the world.

If Martin or Leddy win this season there is a good chance the cup would make its way to the Twin Cities this summer. The local hockey stars still call the area home. If luck works in their favor, keep your eyes pealed for a three-foot silver trophy in the back of a limo in your neighborhood.

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