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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

It’s been three years since the Minnesota University men’s ice hockey team won an NCAA championship.

Andy Sertich and Alex Goligoski are helping the Golden Gophers bring their “A” game to their quest for another title.

The efforts of the two Pittsburgh Penguins prospects have Minnesota atop the national rankings with a 23-6-5 record. Sertich, a senior, is more concerned about getting another championship ring to go along with the one he received in 2003, while Goligoski, a sophomore, wants his first piece of NCAA jewelry.

“It seems like a long time ago we were winning the title,” Sertich said. “I lost that feeling and I certainly want it back.”

The duo is doing its part to get Minnesota back to the NCAA Frozen Four title game, which it won in both 2002 and ’03. The team made a Frozen Four appearance last year, but lost in the semifinals to eventual national runner-up North Dakota.

Goligoski, a 2004 Penguins second-round pick (61st overall), ranks third on the Golden Gophers with 35 points. The 6-foot, 187-pound defenseman leads all Minnesota blueliners with nine goals and 26 assists. He ranks third on the team with 11 multi-point games and fourth in the nation in points and points per game (1.03) among defensemen. He has recorded a point in 21 of 34 games this season.

“I have had a good year so far,” he said. “It makes it a lot easier when your team is winning.”

It works both ways, though. The Golden Gophers are 16-3-2 when Goligoski registers a point.

Through 34 games, he is 22 points head of his scoring total from last season when he notched 13 points (3+10). During his freshman campaign, he missed seven games with injuries.

“I got a little banged up last year. I had a shoulder problem for a bit and a high ankle sprain after that,” he said. “They were untimely injuries last year. This year, I feel great.”

However, the injuries did not prevent Goligoski from competing for the United States at the 2005 World Junior Championships. He had one assist in seven games as the U.S. finished fourth.

“My injuries were bugging me when I went there, but they weren’t a factor,” Goligoski said. “It was a good experience. Anytime you can play for your country and wear the Red, White and Blue, it is a good experience.”

Meanwhile, Sertich, a 2002 Penguins fifth-round pick (136th overall), has 16 points (8+8). He has doubled his point total from last season when he collected eight (3+5).

“Our team is playing well. I have been able to surpass my point total from last year already,” he said. “Everything is going well right now.”

The 6-foot, 189-pound forward is one of Minnesota’s best all-around athletes. He plays on the Gophers’ power-play and penalty-kill units and also has filled in at defense the past two seasons.

“I played defense for one game this year,” he said. “Last year, I played defense in nine games. I can go back there or play forward. I like forward better, but wherever the team needs me I can go.”

Sertich and Goligoski have taken similar routes in their hockey careers. They both grew up in Minnesota: Sertich in Coleraine and Goligoski a couple of miles away in Grand Rapids. They battled each other as high school rivals at Greenway and Grand Rapids, respectively. The two schools are fierce hockey rivals and the teammates have good memories from the one year they competed against each other.

“He is two years older than me, so we played against each other for one year,” Goligoski said. “We’ve become good friends since we got [to Minnesota].”

“We grew up about five miles away and Alex was good in high school,” Sertich said. “I just moved to Grand Rapids recently, so I am about mile half away from him now. We hang out in the summer and he’s a good guy.”

In addition, the two played for the same junior team in Sioux Falls.

“Since he is older, we didn’t play in Sioux Falls at the same time. The first time we played together was here at Minnesota,” Goligoski said. “It’s weird that we’ve taken the same path. It’s pretty cool, though.”

The two even room together when on the road for the Golden Gophers.

“I am not sure how that got to be, but it’s nice to have a guy you’ve been friends with as a roomie,” Sertich said.

Their hockey futures are likely to remain parallel since both are in the Penguins organization.

“It’s good to have a guy [you know well] in the same organization,” Goligoski said.

Of course, their ultimate goal is to play together in the NHL.

“I am sure that’s a goal for both of us,” Sertich said. “If we keep playing the way we are and working hard we might have a chance.”

A third Golden Gopher may join them in the Penguins organization – Phil Kessel. The talented freshman is ranked as one of the top prospects for the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

“He does things in practice and games – his hands are so quick,” Goligoski said. “He makes passes and the passes are off his stick before you even know it. It’s unreal. He is the most talented guy I’ve ever played with. He’s a really good hockey player. It’d be cool if the Penguins drafted him.”

Kessel, a 6-foot, 190-pound freshman forward, ranks second in Minnesota scoring with 42 points (14+28). He played for the U.S. at the 2006 World Junior Championships and led all scorers with 11 points (1+10).

“That’d be interesting if the Penguins got him. Whoever gets him is a lucky team,” Sertich said. “He has a ton of skill and he’s only going to get better. He is kind of like a young kid still. Once he matures, he’s going to get even better, which is hard to imagine. Someone will be very lucky when they [draft] him.”

Nevertheless, both Goligoski and Sertich are excited to be part of a Penguins organization which features so much young talent.

“Obviously, Sidney [Crosby] is going to be the core of team and he’s looked great,” Goligoski said. “They have a lot of young guys coming in and making an impact. They have a really talented team; it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”

Sertich will graduate this year and hopes to compete for a roster spot in the Penguins organization this fall.

“I keep up [with the team] as much as possible and see what’s going on,” he said. “[The fact that many rookies are contributing] sends a nice message to me and all the other prospects that if you can go up, show your stuff and play hard, we might get a chance. It’s a real confidence boost to see that. You see the [young guys] go up there and do well and you say, ‘Maybe I can do that, too.’

“Whenever the management tells me to show up [for camp in the fall], I will try my hardest and try to get a spot on any team in the organization.”

Hopefully, with a new, shiny ring to boot.


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