Thursday, February 23, 2012

UMD Salutes Successful Seniors

Seems like only yesterday that this senior class started up at UMD. For five of the seven Bulldog seniors, that would be four years ago (Kenny Reiter and Cody Danberg are fifth-year seniors).

As the team prepares for its home finale this weekend -- a two-game series against Colorado College -- there should be plenty of emotions on Saturday night, which will be the annual Senior Night. During the first intermission Saturday, the school will pay tribute to its senior class, one that will likely go down as the most successful in school history.

Over the last four years, UMD has tasted more success than it ever has before. The Bulldogs have won the Broadmoor Trophy and NCAA title, earned home ice in the WCHA playoffs three times, and qualified for three straight WCHA Final Fives (hoping to make it four this year). Oh, and they got to be part of a new era in a different way, with the opening of Amsoil Arena.

The record over this four-year period is (so far) 90-47-20. While the 1982-86 run produced 119 wins, it was a time where teams played more games than they do now (limit in the regular season is now 34, with a 36-game schedule allowed if a team travels to Alaska during the season).

The groundwork laid by these guys will -- we hope -- keep this team competitive for years to come.

Obviously, Jack Connolly will get the loudest ovation on Saturday. He'll likely be named the annual Fan Favorite on Friday night (unless someone else is, of course), while Reiter is honored as the school's first-ever four-time WCHA Scholar Athlete. Connolly is inching closer to Bill Oleksuk for 11th place (190 points) on UMD's all-time scoring list. He's a Hobey Baker candidate who -- along with his stellar play on the ice -- happens to be a regular on the All-Academic team in the WCHA. To top it all off, Connolly is a homegrown player, and one of the best homegrown players UMD has ever seen.

Fellow center Travis Oleksuk was one of the first "legacy" players recruited by Scott Sandelin's staff. Bill, as I just mentioned, is 11th on the all-time scoring list, and was a captain during his time at UMD. Travis has been a faceoff machine who developed a great scoring touch during his UMD career. He recently hit 100 points as a Bulldog, and scored his career-high 20th of the season in Saturday's 4-4 tie at Minnesota State. Oleksuk has 44 career goals, 15 of which have served as game-winners (seven last year, six this year).

There might not be a better example of a guy accepting a role and flourishing in it than David Grun. After playing in just three games as a freshman, Grun has logged over 100 in the last three. We knew coming in that he could shoot, but Grun has become one of the team's most trustworthy and responsible players. He eats a lot of penalty kill time, plays on the all-important third line, and has set an example for his teammates by working his tail off for everything he's gotten at UMD. He has done things the right way from the start.

So far, Cody Danberg has played in just one game this season, but there's still time to change that. He's been beset by injuries the last two years after playing 99 games over his first three. After a redshirt year last season, Danberg suffered a serious shoulder injury in the season opening win over Notre Dame. He might not be a 20-goal sniper, but his potential presence in the lineup down the stretch would be a huge lift for a Bulldog team that could certainly use his smarts and tenacity on a penalty kill that's struggled for most of this season.

No UMD player has played more minutes the last two seasons than Brady Lamb. He was a big part of last year's title run, playing his best hockey after coming back from a shoulder injury late in the season. He had assists on all three UMD goals in the national title game. Lamb has been pretty steady this season, showcasing his offensive ability to go along with physical play on the blue line. Oh, and no one banks in 190-foot shots like he does.

Of the UMD seniors, none have persevered like Scott Kishel. The former Virginia/MIB Blue Devil played in 47 games over his first three seasons, including only seven last season. He's been in on 30 games this season, and his offensive skills have been showcased. Kishel has three goals (the first three of his UMD career) and 17 points in 30 games, and has done some damage on the power play with slick passes and a sneaky wrist shot. He could have walked away, frankly, after not playing much over three years, but he should be credited for working hard and sticking with things. He's been rewarded with a strong senior season.

In goal, Kenny Reiter has turned into a rock. Thought to be the backup to Brady Hjelle a couple years ago, Reiter ended up winning the job with a strong playoff performance, and after Hjelle walked and ended up at Ohio State, Reiter has become the guy. With 47 wins, nine shutouts, a .650 winning percentage, and a .912 save percentage over his career, Reiter will go down as one of the best and most consistent goalies UMD has ever had. He's also developed into a top puck-playing goalie. Not in Alex Stalock's league, but still very good at the craft.

When the first period ends on Saturday, please consider scrapping your usual concession stand/hang out in the concourse/ice cream run ritual. Hang out in your seat for a few minutes, and take a moment to appreciate what this group of seven has accomplished.

Their work isn't done, but what they have been a part of at UMD is truly special and very much deserving of recognition from all who call themselves Bulldog fans.

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