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A freshman-laden defense led the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs to a national title in 2018, and before the team was even done celebrating, there were already discussions of a repeat.
Sure enough, just 371 days later, coach Scott Sandelin led his team to a second consecutive title to cap the 2018-19 season. With minimal roster turnover this summer, the numbers point to the Bulldogs heading for another deep run in 2019-20.
20 Years of Sandelin
Sandelin is entering his 20th season with the Bulldogs, and his powerhouse team is entering dynasty territory with three consecutive finals appearances and two consecutive titles.
With a 369-311-87 record in his 19 years, Sandelin has been among the most impressive coaches in college hockey and is establishing UMD as one of the top programs in the nation.
6 Key Returners
Justin Richards returns as the team’s scoring-leader with 12 goals and 32 points following a 44-game, nine-assist freshman season. Another level can be expected in 2019-20.
Scott Perunovich posted 11 goals and 36 points in 2017-18. He followed it up with 29 points this past season after a rough shooting percentage held him to just three goals. Perunovich is destined for a bounce back, especially with the departure of Anderson.
Cole Koepke’s impressive 129 shots on goal were second on the team and the pending sophomore’s ability to get pucks on net will lead to more ice time, rebounds, and inevitable offense.
Nick Swaney returns as the leading goal-scorer after a 15-goal season. Noah Cates led all team freshman last season with 23 points (9 G, 14 A) and is part of the Bulldogs’ next wave under Sandelin. Hunter Shepard returns in net, but more on him later.
5 Consecutive National Tournaments
The Bulldogs will look to add a sixth-consecutive NCAA Tournament berth in 2019-20, and while a three-peat is on the line, they’re eyeing their fourth-consecutive trip to the finals after losing to Denver in 2017.
Sandelin’s teams have been built on defensive efficiency, and the Bulldogs will return five of their top-six defensemen from last season as a sixth national tournament awaits.
3 Key Departures
The 2019 NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Parker MacKay, graduated and signed with the Dallas Stars. MacKay was team captain and led the Bulldogs with 16 goals and 33 points.
Two-way defenseman Mikey Anderson chose to forgo his junior and senior seasons, signing with the Los Angeles Kings (fourth-round pick, 2017). Anderson led the team with a plus-22 rating and added 27 points (6 G, 21 A).
Riley Tufte forwent his senior season after signing with the Stars, who drafted him 25th overall in 2016. He took a slight step back offensively in 2018-19, but will certainly be missed.
2 Consecutive NCAA Titles
Duluth became just the ninth program in NCAA history to secure back-to-back titles following its 3-0 victory over the UMass Minutemen in April.
Their experience and poise can’t be overstated, and as the players gain even more confidence, the thought of three titles becomes easier to picture.
1 Man in Net
Hunter Shepard is on the verge of his senior season with the Bulldogs and already holds the program’s record for wins (54), shutouts (15), save percentage (.924), and goals-against average (1.84). He’s 16 games shy from setting the program record for games played, as well as minutes played.
Shepard’s demeanor in net and confidence in his defense has allowed him to be among the best collegiate goalies over the past two seasons. He led the nation with 29 wins in 2018-19 and is looking like a good bet to do it again in 2019-20.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.