Alumni Corner: Matt Koalska

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Go Gophers! Matt Koalska
Go Gophers!
Matt Koalska scored the game-tying goal against Maine with less than a minute left in the national championship game
Go Gophers!
Almost any Minnesota Hockey fan can tell you where they were when Matt Koalska scored with 52.4 seconds left in the 2002 National Championship against Maine to send the game to overtime, where Grant Potulny ended it. Koalska, who was a sophomore at the time of that memorable play, finished his career as a Gopher with 136 points in 171 games before moving on to play three seasons of professional hockey. The St. Paul-native took some time to catch up and look back on his time at the University of Minnesota with GopherSports.com:

GopherSports.com: What was your time like at Minnesota and what is your favorite memory from playing at Mariucci Arena?
Matt Koalska: My time spent at the U gave me some of the best moments of my life. At that point in my life I didn't have many worries and just enjoyed each day. I was close to home, lived with my best friends, and I was playing the sport I loved. Things were good. My favorite memory playing at Mariucci has to be the first home series I played in my freshman year. Going out for warm ups thinking to myself, "Wow, I am here. I am a Gopher!" We found a way to get a sweep, which made it a little sweeter. It was amazing to be playing in front of such a huge and supportive crowd.

GS: Where was your favorite place to eat on campus at the University of Minnesota?
MK: That would have to be Campus Pizza. I think Troy Riddle and I went there just about every day.

GS: How did you feel before the faceoff following the timeout with 58.3 seconds left in the 2002 national championship game and how did you feel after scoring the tying goal? Can you talk about your unique and memorable goal celebration?
MK: I was trying not to worry too much about the time on the clock. I just knew my role as the sixth player was do my best to try to get the puck on the net. After the faceoff I just hung back and read the play hoping the puck would slip out my way. Fortunately it did.  I put a quick shot on net and I got lucky. After scoring I was in shock and knew the only way to celebrate was with my team. I went to Hill-Murray High School and during big games when a big goal was scored, jumping into the bench was the celebration. That was the only thing that came to my head at that time.

GS: As a St. Paul-native, did winning the national championship your hometown make the memorable moments from that experience more special? How many of your family members and friends were there?
MK: Of course it was special for the whole team to have the Frozen Four in St Paul. I was a little more fortunate my parents were just a few miles from the rink. It was special for the 18,000 fans that were able to make it and witness such an awesome game, which definitely made it feel like a home game. A lot of people I wasn't even aware of have come up to me and told me they were at the game, so I have no idea how many friends. But I have a pretty big family and most of them were able to make it, while I know the rest were watching on TV.

GS: Before your teams' back-to-back championships, there hadn't been a repeat NCAA champion in over 30 years. Going into the 2002-03 season, did you think you would win another national title? How did it feel once you accomplished it?
MK: I know there were some people who had doubts because of the seniors we were losing, but as players we knew it was a possibility and that's all that mattered. We had a talented group of freshmen coming in and good leaders to bring success. We knew what it would take to win another title, so we worked hard to accomplish it. It felt great to win another one for the program and the University, as well as Sid Hartman.

GS: You played for three seasons of professional hockey after your time at Minnesota. What is your favorite hockey memory outside of college?
MK: My favorite hockey memory outside of college hockey would have to be my first NHL game with the New York Islanders. It was a home game against Toronto. My parents were there and it was one I will never forget.

GS: Who was the best player you ever played with and against (at any level)?
MK: Well my wife is a pretty good player. Dierks Bentley isn't too bad either. Best player I ever played with, that's really hard, as there are so many great players. Sidney Crosby was the best I ever played against.

GS: Can you talk a bit about coming back to Minnesota to earn your degree?
MK: I was very fortunate the University allowed me to come back to finish my degree after I was done playing. I was out of school for a few years and it was a transition to get back into school mode. Graduating with a Communications Studies degree required four levels of a foreign language. I had only completed levels 1 and 2 of German, and after not speaking it for a few years, it was very difficult to come back and complete 3 and 4. The U was great for helping me get tutors, allowing me to work at Bierman for computers and a place to study, as well get support from academic advisors. I am very grateful and am so glad I was able to get my degree.

GS: What have you been doing since then?
MK: I spent a few years coaching doing skating lessons in the Twin Cities until my wife brought me north to Fergus Falls. I now work at Athletic Republic. My wife and I also coach the high school girl's hockey team together and are expecting our first baby in February.

GS: To what extent do you follow Gopher hockey today? Do you still keep in touch with the players you played with at the U?
MK: I still enjoy following the team. If I am unable to watch the game, I make sure I am checking scores as soon as I can. My dad will still call to update me as well. My best friends are still the players that I played college hockey with and we try our best to stay in contact. It is getting more difficult with us being all across the world and growing families, but there are usually weddings, baby showers, and other events that get us all together during the summer. I also enjoy building relationships with other hockey alumni who I didn't play with. There is definitely a bond amongst us, and it is great to share stories and the love of the game.

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