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UMD hockey notebook: Perunovich garnering more and more attention

Clint Austin / Minnesota Duluth's Scott Perunovich (7) controls the puck as Nebraska-Omaha's Steven Spinner pursues him during Saturday's game at Amsoil Arena.

With each and every week, Minnesota Duluth freshman defenseman Scott Perunovich garners more and more attention — both on and off the ice.

And neither appear to be slowing down.

Perunovich, a Hibbing native, was a unanimous selection to the NCHC All-Rookie Team on Tuesday, and he followed that up today by being named to the All-NCHC First Team. He'll likely hear his name called a few more times today when the league announces the finalists for its individual awards, with those winners being announced next Thursday during the NCHC Awards ceremony in St. Paul.

Perunovich, who is eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft, averaged a point per game in NCHC play this season, leading all league defensemen in points (24) and goals (8). He also posted a plus-12 rating during the league's regular season with 21 blocked shots.

"We certainly knew he had the offensive ability and I'm not surprised that he is where he is," UMD coach Scott Sandelin. "He does surprise me with some of the plays he makes game in and game out. The big thing is defensively he's been really good. Overall, it's probably a little more than we expected as far as the kind of year, but I'm not surprised he's done what he's done."

Overall, Perunovich is leading the Bulldogs in scoring with 31 points in 34 games, including a team-high 22 assists. He's on track to become the first defenseman to lead UMD in scoring since Dale Jago did it with 36 points in 40 games as a junior in 1988-89. Perunovich is also two points shy of Justin Faulk's UMD record for most points in a single season by a freshman defenseman. Faulk had 33 points in 2010-11.

"I wouldn't have any of that without my teammates," Perunovich said Saturday after passing Tom Kurvers' mark of 30 points as a freshman in 1980-81. "Like (Saturday), I gave the puck to Mikey (Anderson) and Mikey made a nice play right to Joey (Joey Anderson). I definitely couldn't do this without the help of my teammates."

Sandelin said he expects the attention around Perunovich to ratchet up even further as the team begins postseason play — starting this weekend with a best-of-three first round NCHC playoff series at Amsoil Arena against Western Michigan — especially on the ice.

Throughout the second half, teams have been keying on Perunovich more and more. The rookie has also found his name at the top of opponents' scouting reports.

Perunovich is aware of this, which is why he said he's been relying more and more on his teammates, with sophomore defensive partner Nick Wolff being the most help, Perunovich said.

"Some of the moves I was making at the beginning of the year aren't working anymore," Perunovich said today. "People aren't falling for the fakes anymore, they're not biting. I have to simplify my game a little bit, get the puck off my stick. I can give it to anybody else on the ice, and they can do just as much as I can."

Shepard lands on second team, nominated for national award

Joining Perunovich on the All-NCHC teams Wednesday was sophomore goaltender Hunter Shepard, who landed on the second team. Then on Thursday morning, the Cohasset native was named one of 10 semifinalists for the 2018 Mike Richter Award, which honors the most outstanding goaltender each season in NCAA Division I men’s hockey.

Shepard sports a 2.04 goals against average that ranks 10th nationally. His .923 save percentage is 11th in the country, expect only two have been better than the Bulldogs goalie in that category since Dec. 8. Shepard has posted a .942 save percentage since then.

Shepard set a new UMD single-season record for shutouts this year with six, passing Hunter Miska (2016-17), Kasimir Kaskisuo (15-16) and current UMD volunteer goalie coach Brant Nicklin (97-98), who were all tied with five.

In NCHC play, Shepard led the league in wins going 13-10. He was the only goalie to start all 24 of his team's league games. He posted a .915 save percentage and 2.23 goals against average that ranked third in league play. His four shutouts of NCHC opponents were tied for tops in the league with Denver senior goaltender Tanner Jaillet, who nabbed the first-team spot.

Jaillet, the 2017 winner of the Richter Award, is also a semifinalist this season.

The five finalists for the Richter Award, now in it’s fifth season, will be announced Thursday, March 22 with the winner being presented the award on Friday, April 6 during the NCAA Men’s Frozen Four in St. Paul.

Mackay upgraded to questionable

UMD junior wing Parker Mackay is getting closer and closer to returning from injury with Sandelin listing the assistant captain as questionable this week.

Mackay has missed the Bulldogs last seven games, having last played Feb. 2 at Denver. Sandelin has ruled Mackay out the last three Wednesdays going into weekend series.

Mackay has been practicing with the Bulldogs all week, but in a no-contact capacity.

2017-18 All-NCHC Teams

First: *Henrik Borgström, So., F, Denver; Nick Halloran, So., F, Colorado College; David Pope, Sr., F, Nebraska-Omaha; Jimmy Schuldt, Jr., F, St. Cloud State; Scott Perunovich, Fr., D, Minnesota Duluth; Tanner Jaillet, Sr., G, DU.

Second: Mikey Eyssimont, Jr., F, SCSU; Troy Terry, Jr., F, DU; Dylan Gambrell, Jr., F, DU; Christian Wolanin, Jr., D, North Dakota; Louie Belpedio, Sr., D, Miami; Hunter Shepard, So., G, UMD.

Honorable mention: Wade Allison, So., F, Western Michigan; Mason Bergh, Jr., F, CC; Dawson DiPietro, So., F, WMU; Robby Jackson, Jr., F, SCSU; Will Borgen, Jr., D, SCSU; Colton Poolman, So., D, UND; David Hrenak, Fr., G, SCSU.

* — unanimous selection

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