DULUTH — Minnesota Duluth’s men’s hockey program has been blessed with a luxury few college hockey players have enjoyed in decades past.
Since winning the first of back-to-back NCAA championships in 2018 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, the Bulldogs have entered the past four seasons with at least 10 or more players on the roster who have been part of a national championship team. .
The past three seasons have even included five or more players with two national championship rings in their collection.
Now three seasons away from the 2019 NCAA title at Buffalo, UMD enters the 2022-23 season with double-digit newcomers instead of double-digit national champions. Scott Sandelin, the Bulldogs’ three-time NCAA championship coach — entering his 23rd season at UMD — has signed 10 freshmen and a pair of transfers this year.
Sandelin returns 14 from last year’s team that won the NCHC Frozen Faceoff – after finishing fourth in the league in the regular season – before falling in an NCAA Regional Final to eventual national champion Denver at Loveland, Colorado. However, the Bulldogs are down to just nine players who have appeared in an NCAA Frozen Four and only two with rings — fifth-year seniors Jesse Jacques and Tanner Laderoute.
Even Sandelin’s coaching staff is lighter on the championship rings this season than in previous years as college freshman assistant coach Cody Chupp replaces Derek Plante, a member of Sandelin’s staff for the league’s first title. program in 2011.
Adam Krause, whose first season as a UMD coach came in the 2018-19 Championship, was elevated to associate head coach in August. The Hermantown native said he has mixed feelings about not working with many of the players who helped bring the Bulldogs back-to-back national championships, but he’s also excited to coach a group that’s excited to be at UMD and excited to bring the Bulldogs. more titles.
“It’s exciting to have players come here because they want to win. Now it’s about teaching them what it takes to win and getting them to buy into that,” Krause said. “They will learn as they go. They’ll probably develop a greater respect for the players they’ve seen go through it. It is not easy. You have to go through extremely talented and well-trained teams to do it.
The Bulldogs enter this season having made seven straight NCAA tournament appearances. During that span, they also won three NCHC Frozen Faceoff titles, went to four consecutive Frozen Fours, played in three straight NCAA title games, and won two national championships.
It’s a race that all 10 UMD freshmen grew up watching — literally. Some even went to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul to see it in person.
That means team bosses like Jacques and Laderoute can skip all the talk about the goal of the program this season. Everyone already knows what it is. That’s why they came.
“Young people always tell us how fun it was to watch us. And you know, it’s pretty cool, because now they’re here and now it’s their turn to help us,” said Jacques, who now has freshman teammates who were between 14 and 15 when he won an NCAA title. “It’s just something we’re looking forward to. We want to take these guys to the national championship. UMD is known for making the Frozen Four every year. We are very capable of that, no matter what team we have.
Knowing the goals and expectations of the program and knowing how to achieve them are two very different things, however, said Laderoute, captain of the Bulldogs in 2022-23. It’s his job to pass on that knowledge and push teammates like Parker Mackay, Hunter Shepard and Nick Wolff – to name a few – have done in previous years.
It’s the little things that will make the difference between playing or not playing in the 2023 NCAA Men’s Frozen Four April 6-8 in Tampa, Fla., and having it all start in September, Laderoute said.
“You can sort of see what’s going on from the outside, but really until you’re inside you don’t know exactly what it is,” Laderoute said. “I saw them win the 2018 national championship on TV, but when I arrived it was a whole different monster – and not in a negative way.
“We expect a lot. We plan to play on April 10, whenever this last game of the year takes place. We plan to play there every year. With that expectation comes a lot. There is a culture that is transmitted. From my freshman year, Parker Mackay passed it on to me, so I’m just trying to pass it on to them. It’s a lot. You have to bring it every day. You can’t just show up on Friday and Saturday and expect to win games.
Leading a team with 12 newcomers, including 10 freshmen, might not seem normal. But given what Laderoute and Jacques have been through recently, the 2022-23 season has been as normal as it gets, and that feels good, they said.
“When you have a lot of guys like that, you never know how the team is going to form and we kind of gelled right away,” Jacques said. “Everything is awesome.”
UMD’s 10 freshmen this year include NHL draft picks Issac Howard (2022, 1st round, Tampa Bay), Cole Spicer (2022, Rd. 4, Boston) and Jack Smith (2020, Rd. 4, Montreal). Another forward, Ben Steeves, had 67 points last year in the USHL.
In the previous three seasons, Laderoute said it had been difficult to communicate the culture of the program with all of the various concerns and restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of this teamwork takes place away from the rink and begins in the summer.
Not much of that happened, even last year. But this season has been different, so far. This summer felt like a real summer, Laderoute said. The result is a different dynamic and a high fitness level, according to the captain.
“We wanted it to be so normal last year that we kind of wanted it to be normal, but it was still weird,” Ladeoute said. “We were still testing. We were always nervous about going to the grocery store and hitting the wrong box.
“I feel like I’ve been in limbo for three years now. I had a normal season, then half of a normal season. I am delighted to have the opportunity to play Amsoil again with our community, our fans. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.