The 2011-12 UMD men's hockey season saw perhaps the most decorated senior class in school history depart.
A group that included goalie Kenny Reiter, defensemen Brady Lamb and Scott Kishel, and forwards Jack Connolly, Travis Oleksuk, and David Grun ushered in a beautiful new arena (the still-a-gem Amsoil Arena), won a national championship, were a part of four straight 20-plus win seasons, and saw one of its members -- Connolly -- win the 2012 Hobey Baker Award.
The Bulldogs have to move on this season, with one of the younger teams UMD has fielded in some time going through captains practices for one more week. Coaches are allowed a couple hours on the ice per week during these sessions, and get more ice time with players once official practice starts on Saturday at Amsoil Arena.
I previewed the potential lineup back in July. I'm not ready to move off any of that, even though it's probably almost completely wrong. I think there will be a lot of mixing and matching of parts early in the season, as the coaching staff tries to figure out what works best.
The changes don't lessen expectations much. UMD is picked fifth in the WCHA Preseason Media Poll, and is ranked 12th in both national preseason polls. The Bulldogs have been young before, but this is a rare time where UMD is young and also expected to continue what has become a track record of success. Four straight 20-win seasons -- with a national championship mixed in there -- will do that.
No one will run from the expectations, and the thoughts of outsiders are likely shared by many at the facility. This team can't experience a significant dropoff. Not now. Continued success is one of the requirements for this group, especially given the increasingly-competitive recruiting world UMD is working in.
While college hockey fights Canadian major junior leagues to retain players who can jump from the NCAA ranks as long as they have major junior eligibility, but can't jump back to college once they've played for a major junior team, college hockey is also fighting itself.
Orally-committed players are not bound to anything. There have been a lot of cases lately where kids have backed out of commitments to look at different schools. It's one thing to lose a kid to major junior, a fight many in college hockey doesn't feel is fair at this point. It's another to lose a kid to a different school once he has given his word that he will play for your school.
Recruiting lists are getting flimsier and flimsier every year, but when you look at what the Bulldog coaching staff is doing, it's hard not to be happy with not just the 2012-13 class of newcomers, but also what is on the way in future years.
Chris Heisenberg's recruiting spreadsheets are the gold standard for figuring out where players are going. Here is his 2013 board.
UMD has some potential stars on the horizon, like Shattuck defenseman Willie Raskob, Hill-Murray blue-liner Blake Heinrich, and Sioux City's Dan Molenaar, a former Eden Prairie standout.
Forwards like Dom Toninato and Jared Thomas are local stars from Duluth East and Hermantown, respectively, who will play in the USHL this season. Canadian forward Brett Boehm can fill the net, as can Cloquet/Esko/Carlton star Karson Kuhlman. Center Adam Johnson of Hibbing has a ton of potential, and Alex Iafallo of the Fargo Force (USHL) could be poised for a big season.
There are a lot of players still available for the next few years, and it's only a matter of time before the UMD staff is able to secure more commitments.
Just think. Colleges are starting to recruit 1997 birthdates.
Damn, we're getting old.