Wednesday, April 12, 2017

2016-17 Unquestioned Success for UMD

For UMD players, it's certainly fine to be sad over not being able to bring a national championship back from Chicago. Seven seniors saw their careers come to an end Saturday night, and they may have had the sads even if UMD had won the game. It's the end of a great era for all of them, a time of their lives they won't soon forget.

But with time comes perspective. Looking back, there can be no doubt that UMD had a great season, one of the best in program history. The Bulldogs played 42 games and lost all of seven, five of the seven coming by one goal. The young players grew up in a hurry, hardened by playing in a mind-blowing 19 one-goal games (14-5) to go along with seven ties. And four of the games UMD won by two saw gaps widened by empty-net goals at the end. That would be 30 of 42 games decided by zero or one goals, or that were one-goal games in the final minute and change before UMD tacked on an empty-netter.

That's a lot of meat-grinder games. It was great to have such a focused group of seniors, but how valuable was this experience for UMD's younger players, the guys who will have to carry the water going forward?

Asked if his program will miss the pure talent, the little things (penalty killers, shot blockers, etc.), or leadership of this senior class, head coach Scott Sandelin hedged a bit.

"All of them," he quipped. "Certainly, the leadership, the mindset those guys had really carried over to our team. They were really driven to come back and be successful. I think they were really instrumental in that. Their play spoke for itself."

Think about it. Seven losses in 42 games, with 30 of the 42 games being in the neighborhood of "spine-tingling". It was a special season with a special group, one that will be unquestionably missed. Now, the hope is the seeds are sown for future senior classes to carry on the success brought by the last few groups.

UMD has seen some good captains over the years, and clearly these seven learned from guys like Adam Krause and Andy Welinski before them. Dominic Toninato did a great job setting the tone for the group and being one of the team's most consistent players on the ice. That's what captains do. Lead by example in all areas, be vocal when necessary. It's probably too easy, but I expect another local product -- Karson Kuhlman -- to captain next season. He was already captain material before he started at UMD, but the value of playing for great captains over his three years will be realized next season.


We don't know yet what will happen with a number of UMD seniors, or if the program will lose any underclassmen early to the pros.

Defenseman Carson Soucy signed with the Minnesota Wild and could make his pro debut for AHL Iowa as soon as Thursday. Toninato was drafted by Toronto, but is not in a hurry to sign, so that one will probably wait until after the season ends. Free agent forward Alex Iafallo should pick his organization sometime soon. Defenseman Dan Molenaar is retiring from hockey, and other senior players are going to wait until later in the spring or this summer before deciding on their futures.

As for any early departures, Sandelin's message to the media Wednesday was basically "wait and see". It's believed the two major risks are defenseman Neal Pionk and goalie Hunter Miska. Pionk reportedly has garnered a lot of interest from NHL organizations. There's no doubt that teams will look at Miska, who came in as a 21-year-old freshman and earned a spot among the finalists for the Mike Richter Award, won by Denver's Tanner Jaillet. We've already seen Michigan Tech freshman Angus Redmond turn pro after one year, and it isn't crazy to suggest Miska could be gone.

Sandelin noted his belief in backups Nick Deery and Hunter Shepard, both of whom have three years of eligibility remaining. However, it stands to reason the coaches would scour the junior ranks for another goalie who could come in and compete for a job if Miska leaves.

UMD has signed defensemen Mikey Anderson (Joey's brother), Matt Anderson (no relation), and Scott Perunovich (Hibbing kid), along with forward Nick Swaney, who played a second year for USHL Waterloo this season and has been outstanding. He should be ready for a top-six role early in the season, if not at the outset.

Sandelin didn't want to speculate on even the number of recruits he wants to bring in for 2017-18, but that doesn't stop us from trying. 😃

On the blue line, they lose four unless Pionk goes early. If they lose Pionk, they have four back and signed three, so worst case it stands to reason UMD would want to find one more defenseman. I don't know the odds of commit Hunter Lellig coming in 2017, I think he's more likely to play next season in the USHL.

Up front, the Bulldogs lose three players and don't expect to lose anyone early. Swaney is signed, and Peter Krieger will be eligible next season after transferring from Alaska-Fairbanks and sitting out a season. If the ideal number is 15 forwards, UMD will need two more to fill the roster.

Des Moines (USHL) forward Kobe Roth of Warroad and Cloquet native Koby Bender, another USHL forward, could also sign for 2017-18. Roth had a solid season for Des Moines, while Bender has been so-so in Muskegon (production hasn't been great, but he's also not a front-line guy for a playoff team). Both are 1997 birth years. I would presume we'd see at least one and maybe both in for 2017-18 to fill out the class.

As far as filling the lines, a first look could lead you to something like this for a depth chart:

Tufte - Johnson - Anderson (Joey)
Krieger - Swaney - Kuhlman
Young - Peterson - Mackay
Recruit - Thomas - Exell
Miller - Spurrell - Recruit

Wolff - Pionk
Anderson (Mikey) - Perunovich
Anderson (Matt) - Hilderman
McCormack - Campion

If Pionk leaves, UMD is left with just Hilderman and Campion as right-handed defensemen, assuming no one else is brought in. That could be a concern coupled with the youth back there.


The full schedule will be released eventually, but this is what we know:

Oct. 1 Alberta (exhibition)
Oct. 6 Minnesota (IceBreaker at Amsoil Arena)
Oct. 7 Union/ Michigan Tech (IceBreaker at Amsoil Arena)
Oct. 13-14 Bemidji State home/home (not sure the order)
Oct. 20-21 Merrimack
Oct. 27-28 at Maine
Nov. 3-4 at St. Cloud State
Nov. 10-11 Western Michigan
Nov. 17-18 at Miami
Dec. 1-2 Denver
Dec. 8-9 at Omaha
Dec. 29-30 (guessing on dates) at Ledyard Classic (hosted by Dartmouth, with Yale and New Hampshire)
Jan. 12-13 at Colorado College
Jan. 19-20 North Dakota
Jan. 26-27 St. Cloud State
Feb. 2-3 at Denver
Feb. 16-17 Miami
Feb. 23-24 at Western Michigan
Mar. 2-3 Omaha

UMD will also play a home and home with Minnesota State, a Saturday night in Duluth in one half of the season, and a Tuesday in Mankato during the other half.


Thanks to all the UMD players and staff and administration for another great sports season. Your help is never unnoticed and always appreciated.

I'll be around here and there with news and updates. Around that, enjoy the spring and summer. Don't forget to join us next season back on KDAL (610AM and 103.9FM) for UMD hockey. Download the KDAL app to get a head start and be ready for the launch of UMD football Aug. 31.

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