College men's hockey preview: Bulldogs will build, not dwell, on recent national title successUMD is moving on to 2011-12, starting with the first official day of practice Saturday and a home exhibition game Sunday against Lakehead University of Thunder Bay, Ontario.
A championship season is depicted in new artwork on an Amsoil Arena wall. The Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team sees the collage every day on the way to their locker room.
The Bulldogs, however, say they won’t dwell on reliving the program’s first NCAA title in 50 years in Division I.
They’re moving on to 2011-12, starting with the first official day of practice Saturday and a 6:07 p.m. Sunday home exhibition against Lakehead University of Thunder Bay, Ontario.
“You can learn from winning a championship; we can take that with us into a new season,” said senior captain Jack Connolly, a two-time All-
American from Duluth. “We didn’t have a formula for success, but we believed from the start of last year that we had something. We all felt it.
“We had a team realize what it takes to win, especially in the playoffs. There were no easy games, but we buckled down, we played our best, we got goaltending, and defense, and offense. We accomplished what we set out to do.”
UMD (26-10-6) placed fourth in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, swept St. Cloud State to open the playoffs at home, lost to Bemidji State in overtime in the WCHA Final Five’s first game, then won four straight NCAA playoff games over No. 8 Union 2-0, No. 1 Yale 5-3, No. 11 Notre Dame 4-3 and No. 5 Michigan 3-2 in overtime.
The Bulldogs started the NCAA postseason ranked No. 9 and finished No. 1 on April 9 at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.
Losses to graduation and professional hockey were significant as nearly 50 percent of the team’s goal-
scoring is gone (70 of 143 goals). No longer with the program are the top two goal scorers, Mike Connolly, who skipped his senior year to sign with San Jose, and Justin Fontaine, a free-agent signee with Minnesota; the top two defensemen, senior Mike Montgomery and freshman Justin Faulk, now with the Carolina Hurricanes; senior offensive spark plug Kyle Schmidt, who scored the NCAA-winning goal; and senior defensemen Chad Huttel and Trent Palm.
“We started out with one of the best lines in college hockey, one of the better lines since I’ve been around the game,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “We had a gem in Faulk as a freshman, and another gem in J.T. Brown.
“When push came to shove, this team got the job done. They never lost more than one game in a row. I never really worried about that team; I knew what they were capable of.
“If players from last season want to look at their championship rings occasionally, that’s fine. They should be proud of what they did. But championship teams can’t come back the next year thinking they can show up and win. Our team will have to be ultra-
competitive this season.
“We have to be realistic, we lost some difference-makers who would be missed on any team. We also have 14 juniors and seniors who have seen the program win 71 games the last three seasons. We might not be as dynamic as last season, but we some solid pieces in place.”
Jack Connolly led UMD’s scoring last season with 59 points in 42 games centering Fontaine and Mike Connolly. Sophomore winger Brown, named the outstanding player of the 2011 Frozen Four, had 37 points and will be on Connolly’s line this season. Senior center Travis Oleksuk is also back with 62 points in 93 career games.
The remaining forwards are headed by senior David Grun and juniors Mike Seidel, Dan DeLisle and Jake Hendrickson. An addition is senior assistant captain Cody Danberg, who sat out last season after knee surgery and has played in 99 career games.
Defensemen returning from the Frozen Four title game are senior Brady Lamb and juniors Wade Bergman and Drew Olson.
There’s experience in goaltending with senior Kenny Reiter, who started last season’s final eight games, and sophomore Aaron Crandall.
“We faced some adversity last season, like Kyle Schmidt having surgery twice, but we had talent, character and chemistry, and we believed we had something special,” said Lamb, an assistant captain from Calgary, Alberta. “What’s important now is to lead by example. We still have skill and talent, and if we all pull on the same rope we’ll do well.”
The Bulldogs have seven first-year players on a 25-man roster including redshirt defenseman Luke McManus and Providence College transfer defenseman Tim Smith. Other freshmen expected to see playing time are defensemen Chris Casto and Derik Johnson (son of former UMD defenseman Jim Johnson) and center Caleb Herbert.
Also new to the team is assistant coach Jason Herter, a former North Dakota defenseman who was coach and general manager with the U.S. Hockey League’s Fargo (N.D.) Force last season. He replaces Brett Larson, now coach and general manager with Sioux City (Iowa) in the U.S. Hockey League.
“We’ll start as a good defensive team with good penalty killing. Our veteran goalies are a positive and they’ll need to be even better to help us win,” said Sandelin, 192-200-52 through 11 seasons. “Our power play needs to be good again and we need to find some goal scorers. We’ll have some growing pains, and some of our lines will go through trial and error for the first month or two.”
The WCHA coaches and media each picked the Bulldogs to place fifth in the league.
UMD will raise its 2011 NCAA championship banner Oct. 7 at Amsoil Arena as the regular season opens against top-ranked Notre Dame.