Mark Ladwig, Erik Johnson, Jenny Potter & Natalie Darwitz among Top 5 MN Olympians

By my count (considering state of birth, or participation in our high school & college sports), Minnesota claimed 27 athlete-connections in Vancouver -- that number would have been 28 had Minneapolis-native and New Jersey Devil defenseman Paul Martin not been forced to withdraw with a forearm injury.
Here are my selections for the top 5 performances that came from these connections at the 21st Winter Olympic Games.  Let me know if I missed anyone on the list:

5. Mark Ladwig
At 29, the Moorhead High Grad competed in his first Olympics after he and skate partner Amanda Evora had medaled at the U.S Nationals for the first time, finishing third this year.  From 2007-09, the two had finished in the top five in the Nationals, but the pair of eight years earned the trip to Vancouver via lauded persistence.  While Ladwig and Evora finished the Games far out of the medal race, their 10th place standing in pairs figure skating was the highest finish for the American contingent.

4. Jenny Potter & Natalie Darwitz
Potter of Edina, a mother of two and in her fourth Olympic Games (dubbed "Mom" by her teammates), earned her fourth Olympic medal in Vancouver.  The former Minnesota Golden Gopher and UMD Bulldog who led her team in scoring in 2006 (Torino) concluded these Games as the team leader in goals (6) and tied for the team lead in points (11) in the

Women's Silver medal effort.

Tied with Potter for the team points lead was Eagan's Darwitz.  The former Gopher and USA team Captain, in her third Olympics, also led the team in assists, recording seven for the tournament.  

3. Erik Johnson
As just one of five current #1 overall NHL draft picks to hail from the States, the Bloomington-native and former U of M skater Johnson, 21, has a rep as an offensive-defenseman for his day job with the St. Louis Blues.  But the kid proved his versatility in these, his first Olympic Games.  The budding star was a key element in USA's inspired Silver medal run, seeing the fourth-most ice time for his squad and notching a goal versus Finland in the tournament semifinal.  More importantly, Johnson's plus/minus time on the rink tallied a final +3, with just one even strength or power play goal allowed on his watch.  He should be an Olympic participant for years to come. 


2. Lindsey Vonn
Views on Vonn -- both nationally and from a local vantage -- are polarized after the hype-machine exits Vancouver (her third Olympics) with two medals in her five events (Gold in

Downhill; Bronze in Super-G).  While Vonn led after the Downhill stage of the Super Combined, the banged-up two-time World Cup champ crashed in her Slalom half of that event and also earned "DNF"'s via a missed gate and another fall in her Slalom and Giant Slalom runs, respectively.  The performances of both her well-documented pal, German Maria Riesch (two Golds) and teammate Julia Mancuso (two Silvers) threatened to over-shadow Vonn in Vancouver -- although true ski faithful will tell you that the World Cup season is a far better gauge of a skier's merit, as opposed to a few event runs at the more magnified Games.  For anyone that watched these Olympics closely, it's no secret that Vonn owns a narcissism that, for some, can belie the Burnsville-native's oft-sweet & smiling media-portrayal.  The woman no doubt adores the limelight, and her transparent friction with Mancuso ultimately came across as a turnoff for some.  But Vonn, 25, is an unquestionably driven and uniquely-talented athlete and to leave Vancouver with two medals after arriving with the star treatment is no small task.  She's already committed to appear in her fourth games in Sochi (Russia) for 2014.  We now know that she can handle the hype.  But now we need to gather if she'll continue to do so with acceptable grace, or if a Diva-mentality will outrun her skis.     

1.  Zach Parise 
The Prior Lake-native and Shattuck-St. Mary's product began these Games with little juice to show for the squeeze.  Expected to be a scoring machine for Team USA, the diminutive New Jersey Devil who came to Vancouver tied for ninth in NHL goals (28) and 17th in points (61) netted nary a goal for the first three games.  But come the Olympic quarterfinal, the 25-year-old Parise found his celebrated scoring groove and netted four goals in the team's last three

showdowns.  His game-tying score with 24 seconds left in the Gold medal contest with Canada may have served as an iconic American image had USA not lost in overtime -- but nevertheless, that goal will still remain a part of the American hockey consciousness for years to come.  All told: Parise finished the tournament tied for the most team goals (with Brian Rafalski), tied for the most assists (four tallied, beside Rafalski and Ryan Suter) and tied for the most points (eight, beside Rafalski).  Parise's four Olympic goals also tied for the second-most in the entire tournament, one behind Canada's Jarome Iginla who played one additional game.  


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