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College men’s hockey: Miska one and done at UMD, signs with Arizona Coyotes

Minnesota Duluth freshman goaltender Hunter Miska answers a question during a press conference at the NCAA Frozen Four on April 6 at the United Center in Chicago. Miska is leaving the Bulldogs after just one season to sign with the Arizona Coyotes. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

For the second consecutive season, Minnesota Duluth has lost its No. 1 goaltender to the professional ranks early.

Freshman Hunter Miska is forgoing his final three seasons of NCAA eligibility to sign with the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes after backstopping the Bulldogs to the NCAA championship game in 2016-17. Miska follows in the footsteps of Kasimir Kaskisuo, who after his sophomore season at UMD in 2015-16 signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Coyotes announced the signing Saturday.

Miska, the Stacy, Minn.-native who turns 22 in July, posted a 2.20 goals against average and .920 save percentage as a freshman. He started 39 of 42 games for the Bulldogs and tied the school record of five shutouts in a single season.

“The opportunity is pretty hard to pass up because you never know what the future holds ahead of you. You never know if I’m going to get hurt next year,” Miska said. “I’ve been playing well, I feel like my game is at a high right now and why not keep it going at a high? I feel like I’m ready for the next level.”

Kaskisuo’s departure, plus the graduation of senior backup Matt McNeely, after 2015-16 left the Bulldogs with three goaltenders at the start of 2016-17 who had yet to play in an NCAA regular season game.

That’s not the case this time around, and while their collegiate experience is limited, both returnees are “very capable goaltenders,” according to coach Scott Sandelin.

Redshirt freshman Nick Deery appeared in two and a half games in 2016-17, including two starts (1-0-1). All three appearances came in the month of October. He posted a 1.54 GAA and .934 save percentage stopping 57 of 61 shots.

True freshman Hunter Shepard out of Cohasset and Grand Rapids High School started one game (a home loss to Notre Dame in October) and came on in relief for Miska in another (the 7-4 loss at Western Michigan in March ). Shepard stopped 47 of the 51 shots he faced for a 2.58 GAA and .922 save percentage.

“They’ve been good, they’ve both taken steps. We’re very comfortable with those guys,” said Sandelin, who added the team will bring in another goalie to compete with Deery and Shepard. “They both have been very coachable. They’ve worked hard.

“It’s never easy when you’re not playing, but they’ve both improved. Next year could be a great opportunity for both of them.”

Both Shepard and Deery came to UMD as the best goaltender from their respective league. Shepard — the 2014 Frank Brimsek Award winner as top senior high school goalie with the Thunderhawks — was the North American Hockey League Goaltender of the Year in 2015-16 with Bismarck. Deery was named the top goaltender in 2014-15 in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League while leading the Steinbach Pistons to the MJHL finals.

Miska was also one of the top junior goaltenders in North America when he arrived at UMD in the fall. He took his time getting to the college ranks, spending two seasons with the U.S. National Team Development program before playing two seasons with the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League and one season with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League.

Miska was named the USA Hockey Dave Peterson Goalie of the Year in 2016 after nabbing the BCHL’s Top Goaltender Award in 2015. This year with the Bulldogs, Miska was named to the All-NCHC second team, he was a top-five finalist for the Mike Richter Award as national goaltender of the year and named to the all-tournament teams of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and NCAA West Regional, in addition to a number of other weekly and monthly honors.

Miska said confidence and maturity is what he gained the most of in his one season at UMD.

“I’ve slowed my game down a lot through the year. Obviously the confidence comes with that,” Miska said. “The year I played in Duluth was unbelievable. I learned a lot with the game playing in front of an older group of guys. It helped me become comfortable with the position. If it wasn’t for those guys, I wouldn’t be in the spot I am with how good they were with me and how much they helped me along the way.”

Miska is the third one-and-done from the NCHC this offseason. The NCAA has seen six total freshmen this spring sign NHL deals, including two freshmen goalies.

Including Miska, the Coyotes will have four goaltenders under contract for 2017-18. Marek Langhamer (3.29 GAA, .903 save percentage), 22, is a restricted free agent after playing 24 games this season in the AHL for the Tucson Roadrunners behind 20-year-old Adin Hill (3.16, .906). Coyotes starter Mike Smith (2.92, .914) is 35 and signed through 2018-19 while 25-year-old backup Louis Domingue (3.08, .908) is a restricted free agent after next season.

“They obviously need some goaltending in their system and I feel like I can bring a lot to the table,” Miska said. “I’m really excited for what the future holds for me with them.”

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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