What a run it has been for Minnesota-Duluth.
The Bulldogs won national championships in 2018 and 2019 and had an excellent chance of earning a third consecutive title this spring.
With COVID canceling out the 2020 postseason, UMD has held the title of Division I champ for 31 straight months and enters this campaign ranked No. 3 in the USA Today poll.
Part III of our seven-part, NCHC opponent snapshot series focuses on the Bulldogs.
NCAA TITLES: 3 (2011, 2018, 2019).
COACH: Scott Sandelin (21st season, 391-321-89, .544).
2019-20 RECORD: 22-10-2 (17-5-2 NCHC, second place).
RINK (capacity): Amsoil Arena (6,026), Duluth, Minn.
MIAMI VS. MINN.-DULUTH LAST SEASON: 1-1.
ALL-TIME SERIES: Minn.-Duluth leads, 20-5-2.
2020-21 SCHEDULE VS. MIAMI: Two bubble games in Omaha, Dec. 4 and Dec. 8; vs. Minn.-Duluth Jan. 15-16; at Minn.-Duluth Feb. 5-6.
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F Cole Koepke, F Noah Cates, F Nick Swaney, F Quinn Olson, F Luke Loheit, D Louis Roehl, D Matt Anderson.
KEY NEW FACES: G Zach Stejskal, D Matt Cairns, D Connor Kelley, D Darian Gotz.
KEY LOSSES: D Scott Perunovich, D Dylan Samberg, D Nick Wolff, F Justin Richards, G Hunter Shepard.
NOTES: The biggest question facing Minn.-Duluth this season is in net.
Hunter Shepard logged every minute between the pipes in 2019-20, and the three goalies on the Bulldogs’ roster – Zach Stejskal, Ryan Fanti and Ben Patt – have never played a minute at the USHL level, much less Division I.
Patt, a redshirt junior, is actually in his fourth season with UMD and dressed seven times in 2018-19 but never played.
Fanti is a sophomore and Stejskal a freshman.
The Bulldogs also lost their top three defensemen from 2019-20, as one graduated and two – Scott Perunovich and Dylan Samberg – left a year early for the pros. The team’s returning blueliners combined for just nine points last season.
UMD has two three-year starters returning on the back end in Louie Roehl and Matt Anderson, who have both played over 110 games. Jake Rosenbaum is also back for his junior season after dressing 27 times in 2019-20.
Transfer Matt Cairns is joining the Bulldogs’ blue line for his senior season after playing three years at Cornell. The Edmonton third-round pick logged 61 games at CU and recorded three goals and three assists.
With its losses, Minn.-Duluth’s three freshmen defensemen should have solid opportunities to earn immediate ice time. Connor Kelley played with the USNDT, Wyatt Kaiser was a star at in-state Andover High School and Darian Gotz spent last season with Cedar Rapids of the USHL.
Up front is Minn.-Duluth’s strength, as seven of the team’s eight 15-point producers from last campaign are back, including three draftees who topped 25 points.
Cole Koepke, a Tampa selection, led the team in goals with 16, including 14 in NCHC play, and Philadelphia draftee Noah Cates was tops on the team in forward assists (19). Both are juniors and finished with 33 points apiece.
Minnesota draft pick senior Nick Swaney went 12-14-26 and has 73 career points, the most of any returning skater.
Noah Cates’ brother, Jackson Cates, racked up 23 points last season, Kobe Roth notched 13 goals, Tanner Laderoute parlayed 16 points with a plus-15 rating and the lone sophomore of this group – Boston draftee Quinn Olson – scored seven goals and added eight assists his rookie season.
Two freshmen join the Bulldogs’ forward corps – Blake Biondi and Luke Mylymok.
The Bulldogs are one of the best in college sports at recruiting locally. Out of 26 players on their roster, 18 are from Minnesota, including 5-of-6 among the freshman class.