Four years ago, 11 players comprised the largest freshman class for the UMD men's hockey program in some time. After four early departures, including three involving guys who signed pro contracts, we were left with a class of seven seniors this season.
At around 7:45pm Saturday, those seven UMD seniors will hit the ice with their parents, as the school participates in the annual tradition known as Senior Night.
This weekend holds a bit more significance because UMD still has a real shot at home ice in the WCHA playoffs (regardless of what some perpetually negative local media types want you to think), so it might not be the last time these seven get to skate the DECC ice.
Shouldn't change anything in terms of the emotions that will permeate the DECC Saturday.
The common thread of these seniors is that they're all real good people. While none of them have posted lights-out numbers this season, all seven have been key contributors to a Bulldog team that is trying to close out their first NCAA berth since 2004.
If there's a better leader on a team in Division I, I'd like to know about it. Carroll has been a true role model.
You hear all the time about the player who is the first one on the ice and the last one off. Carroll takes this old adage to an extreme. His work ethic is not only second-to-none, but it's totally contagious.
I remember meeting the team at the DECC for a bus ride to the Twin Cities airport earlier this season. The boys skated before the trip, and they were wrapping up when I got there. Everyone got off the ice but one guy. Andrew stayed on the ice until the Zamboni was about to run him over, only stopping then.
For a guy with "only" 55 points in his college career, it might be a stretch to say Andrew has a long pro career in front of him. However, I wouldn't put anything past him. Even if he doesn't play for a long time, you couldn't find a better coach.
He's a natural leader. He understands the game and plays a clean style, and he's great with kids. Hockey will benefit from having Andrew Carroll around, regardless of how long he sticks around the game.
It's another overused phrase, but it applies to Jay. He bounced between forward and defense for a good portion of his early Bulldog career, and he was never bothered by a lack of power-play time on a team where the defenseman don't normally get a lot of chances to contribute offensively outside of the power play.
He did his job, which was to take care of his zone and his goaltender. You'd be hard-pressed to outskate him, and you were probably never going to outsmart him.
Gergen has a passion for hockey and an understanding of the game that are hard to top. When his playing days are over, I would welcome him into a broadcast booth near you, where he can continue to speak articulately about the sport. I can tell you that I always enjoyed our conversations about the game.
But before does that, he can play. Gergs has a shot on him, and while some argued that he used that shot too much, it's hard to argue against a lot of his decisions. When you're struggling to score goals, as UMD has for much of Gergen's career, you want your best players to be aggressive with the puck and make goalies stop it. Gergen sometimes would dangle a bit too much and take ill-timed shots, but I'll take mistimed aggression over passiveness any day of the week.
Michael really developed as a guy unafraid of physical contact, and a guy willing to do the little things.
You need grinders. They can give you energy when things aren't going well, and they are often really good at killing penalties.
Of course, they don't score a lot of goals, and that's the sexy part of hockey.
Matt never seemed to care much about being sexy. He just played the game. Played it damn well, too.
Greer doesn't jump at you the way Carroll does. He's a smooth penalty-killer, and he works his tail off. Similar to Carroll, Matt's ability to communicate and his leadership skills make him a potential coach in the future. In the meantime, I think back to this season's "Skate With The Bulldogs". My kid was already on the ice, and I was standing by the door in the corner. Greer skated over to me and menacingly said "Where is he?". Of course, the boy had a blast skating with his heroes. Still hasn't washed his jersey since, either.
It's fun when the local kids decide to go to UMD. Sometimes, expectations become unrealistic, and that's kind of what happened with Kemp. Like most of his fellow seniors, Kemp was never going to be outworked on the ice, and you had to practically pry him off the ice.
There always seemed to be a special connection between Nick and the younger fans. I'm sure it has a lot to do with the fact that he was a local product. Well, that and he almost always has a smile on his face. Kids seem to migrate to familiar people who appear to be happy.
There are still a goodly number of local kids on the team. Doesn't mean we won't miss Kemper the Wrecker. He did everything he could to help this team, including a rather infamous glove-dropping incident a couple years ago in Mankato.
And who hasn't wanted to punch a player while stuck spending the weekend in Mankato?
(Kidding. I like Mankato. No, really, I do. Any city that has a TGI Friday's is cool with me.)
The first time I saw Josh play, it was pretty obvious he had some skills. His freshman year was hampered by injury, but I knew he had a shot, and I knew he would be a factor on the power play.
UMD defensemen never seem to put up great numbers five-on-five. It's not for lack of trying, but one of those things that makes you say "It is what it is".
Meyers has a huge shot. He often shoots accurately. He knows the right place to be in the defensive zone, and his experience and leadership will be sorely missed next year. Hopefully, he's passed enough knowledge on to the likes of Evan Oberg and Mike Montgomery so they can be 25-minute-per-game guys next year.
It was absolutely fitting to me that Sharpie picked up that hat trick Saturday night at Minnesota. It sucked that UMD lost the game, but it doesn't diminish the meaning of what Sharpie did. When I was broadcasting the games, I got sick of reminding the world that UMD had such a long hat trick drought. I did it habitually every time a UMD player scored two in a game, and it got to the point where I didn't have to look it up anymore. It was committed to memory.
Sharp worked endlessly on his shot over the offseason, and it shows. He is more confident with the puck now, more willing to shoot from anywhere on the rink. It's paid off to the tune of 17 goals, matching his point total from a year ago.
I'm not sure what the chances are of this guy getting a shot in pro hockey, but anyone who can shoot like he can should have a chance waiting for him somewhere. Not only does Sharpie have an impressive shot, but he carries with him that willingness to go into the tough areas that you simply can't teach.
Before things went south for me, this was to be my first senior class. I'm proud to have worked with and gotten to know these kids, and I'm thrilled to say that they represented UMD and Bulldog hockey well for four years.