There are a lot of uncertainties about this year’s UMD men’s hockey team, but if there’s one thing that’s for sure, it’s that the team is going to look a lot different than what fans have come to expect. Gone is the final member of the famous Fontaine-Connolly-Connolly offensive line, as are other top scorers J.T. Brown and Travis Oleksuk. Top blueliner Brady Lamb and Kenny Reiter, arguably the greatest goalie to put on the Bulldogs sweater, are among the others who are now just a part of UMD hockey history.
The Bulldogs open the season when they host Ohio State Friday and Saturday at Amsoil Arena, and if the team is going to find success this year, it’s going to have to rely on some fresh faces.
“I’m looking forward to seeing who’s going to step up for us,” said senior winger Mike Seidel, who will likely skate on the top line. “You’ve got to try to get these younger guys involved and let them know that this is a tough league and we’ve got to establish our presence.”
Replacing last year’s top three scorers—Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner and All-American Jack Connolly, All-American J.T. Brown and All-WCHA third team member Travis Oleksuk—won’t be an easy task.
“It’s a bit of a question mark certainly when you lose your top three scorers,” said UMD head coach Scott Sandelin. “We might not have three 20-goal scorers, but we’re hoping that we’ll get production out of all our lines.”
Seidel, sophomore winger Caleb Herbert, junior winger Joe Basaraba, senior winger Keegan Flaherty and sophomore winger Justin Crandall will likely be near the top of UMD’s scoring totals. Herbert, who had 14 goals and 19 assists last year, is the top returning scorer.
They will be joined by senior captain Cody Danberg, who was granted a sixth year of NCAA eligibility after missing all of last year with an injury. Danberg, the first player in UMD history to be granted a sixth year, was injured in the first game of the 2010-11 season and has not suited up since.
The blueline for the Bulldogs looks a little more solid, with a squad of familiar faces returning. Senior Drew Olson, an assistant captain, will be rejoined by the likes of senior Wade Bergman, junior Tim Smith and sophomores Chris Casto, Derik Johnson and Luke McManus.
“I think (the defense) is one of our strong suits here on our team,” Olson said. “We’ve got a lot of returning guys. A couple of freshmen, they’ve come in and performed well in practice and I think we’re all just excited for the season.”
The goaltending situation will be an interesting spot to watch. Junior Aaron Crandall is the only one on the team with college experience, but he is joined by two skilled freshmen in Alex Fons and Matt McNeely.
After splitting time with Reiter for much of the 2010-11 season, Crandall was relegated to back-up duty late that season. He started just three games in 2011-12, posting a 2-1-0 record with a 3.01 goals against average and .855 saves percentage.
Fons spent half a season at the University of Minnesota, but later returned to junior hockey. McNeely is considered a top prospect, having spent just one year in the United States Hockey League before joining UMD.
“Aaron didn’t play as much last year, so it’s a little bit of a perseverance thing for him, but certainly he’s proven he can win at this level,” Sandelin said. “He knows what this level is about more than the other two, so he’s probably the lead guy going in, but it’s hard to say right now.”
Sandelin said he plans to start Crandall in Friday’s game and let the situation develop from there.
Other rookies could see significant playing time this season as well. Center Tony Cameranesi and defenseman Andy Welinski, a Duluth native, are among those who are expected to fill in some of the spots vacated by graduating seniors.
“The strength of the group is the older guys, the juniors and seniors who have won a lot. They are going to epitomize our team,” Sandelin said. “It’s a matter of how quickly some of the young kids can adjust. They’re going to need to fill some voids.”
BY TOM OLSEN firstname.lastname@example.org