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College men's hockey: Shepard to the rescue for UMD

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Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com Minnesota Duluth goaltender Hunter Shepard takes shots from youth hockey players during an outside practice Tuesday at the Piedmont hockey rinks in Duluth. 2 / 3
Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com Minnesota Duluth goaltender Hunter Shepard gives an autograph to Jacob DeBolt, 9, of Rice Lake, Wis., as his father, Gary DeBolt, watches before an outside practice Tuesday at the Piedmont hockey rinks in Duluth. 3 / 3

While Minnesota Duluth's 18 skaters worked to regain their legs after a two-week layoff, sophomore goaltender Hunter Shepard held down the fort in the first period last Friday against Yale in the opening game of the Ledyard Bank Classic in Hanover, N.H.

The Cohasset native made 10 saves in the opening period before junior wing Parker Mackay scored on a power play just seconds before intermission. The effort left coach Scott Sandelin wondering if his goalie even took some time off.

"The only times I skated back home was outside," said Shepard, the former Grand Rapids High School standout. "I think that was good to get a break and go out there and play for fun a little bit, let the body get some rest. It was a grinding first half for us."

Shepard finished with 29 saves in the 5-0 win, giving him his third shutout of the season. The next night in a 2-2 overtime tie against host Dartmouth, Shepard stopped a collegiate-high 41 shots in regulation and overtime, plus two of the three shots he faced in the shootout to give UMD the tourney title.

The goalie was named tournament MVP for his efforts and awarded the NCHC's goaltender of the week award for the third time this season on Monday.

Sandelin said Shepard's start to the second half is a continuation of the first, where for the last month and a half he developed a high level of consistency that gives the team a chance to win every night.

"It's really important for him to come out of the break and keep doing good things," Sandelin said. "That's important, obviously. It gives our team a little boost and gives our team some confidence. It should give him some, too."

The Bulldogs needed Shepard to be at his best last week considering the circumstances. The team was down to just five defensemen Friday due to three freshmen taking part in the World Junior Championship. UMD then lost senior Nick McCormack for Saturday's game after he received a highly questionable game disqualification against Yale.

Shepard said he didn't alter his play much either night. He tried to get whistles when he could, especially on Saturday so the defenseman could get a change. Other than that, Shepard said he just tried to match the defensmen's effort.

"Those guys didn't step off the gas at all with only four guys. That's a huge credit to them out there," Shepard said. "That's the kind of guys we have in the room. You don't want to let the guy next to you down."

The Bulldogs (9-9-3), who moved up one spot this week in the United States College Hockey Online.com poll to No. 16, are off again this weekend before returning to NCHC play Jan. 12-13 at Colorado College. UMD returns to Amsoil Arena Jan. 19-20 when it hosts North Dakota.

Future Bulldogs compete in Russia

The IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y. — featuring five members of the UMD men's team — wraps up on Friday.

Come Saturday, it's time for the top up-and-coming women's players to step into the spotlight at the IIHF Under-18 Women's World Championship in Dmitrov, Russia. The U.S. Under-18 Women's National Team features future Bulldogs Maggie Flaherty, a forward from Lakeville, Minn., and Lizi Norton, a defenseman out of Orono, Minn. Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell is the team's associate head coach.

Team USA opens preliminary play Saturday against Sweden. The tournament wraps up with the medal round on Jan. 13, meaning Crowell will miss this weekend's exhibitions and next week's WCHA series against Bemidji State. Assistant coach Laura Bellamy of Duluth will take over the head coaching duties in Crowell's absence.

• UMD freshman forward Ashton Bell and senior defenseman Jess Healey are playing for the Canadian National Women's Development Team at the 2018 Nations Cup in Fussen, Germany. The tournament begins today and runs through Saturday. Bell had two goals and an assist and Healey had an assist last Saturday in a pre-tournament game against Austria.

• USA Hockey officially announced the U.S. Women's Olympic roster Monday and as was reported last month when cuts were made, former Bulldogs defenseman Sidney Morin and current Bulldogs goaltender Maddie Rooney are heading to the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. This will be the first Olympics for both. They are the program's 31st and 32nd Olympians, but only the second and third Bulldogs to ever play for Team USA, joining four-time Olympian Jenny Potter.

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

(218) 723-5317
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