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Bulldogs shorthanded in practice with Colorado College visiting for NCHC series at Amsoil Arena

Scott Sandelin said Wednesday the absences are due to a combination of injuries and illnesses, but the coach expects to have enough players available this weekend against the Tigers.

men hockey players
Minnesota Duluth defenseman Wyatt Kaiser (5) and Minnesota Duluth forward Dominic James (17) celebrate after scoring a goal against Cornell at Amsoil Arena on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Coming off a bye week over Thanksgiving, a banged-up Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team should be back — or close — to full strength entering its final two weeks of play before taking another pause for Christmas.

UMD is not.

In fact, the Bulldogs could very well be worse off this weekend than they were two weeks ago in a split at snowy Western Michigan. The Bulldogs were without numerous players during Wednesday’s practice. Two others skated in no-contact jerseys.

“It’s been an interesting week,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said.

The only players ruled out as of Wednesday by Sandelin for the 7 p.m. NCHC games on Friday and Saturday at Amsoil Arena are freshman defenseman Aidan Dubinsky — who has missed the last three games dating back to Nov. 12 against Omaha — and sophomore forward Kyler Kleven, who is out with a long-term upper body injury.

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Among those not practicing on Wednesday were junior defenseman Wyatt Kaiser, sophomore center Dominic James and senior goaltender Matthew Thiessen. Junior wing Blake Biondi and freshman center Cole Spicer were in no-contact jerseys.

Sandelin said the absences are due to a combination of injuries and illnesses, but he expects to have enough players this weekend against the Tigers.

“To me, this is a huge weekend for us at this time of the year,” Sandelin said. “We’re coming off a week last week where we didn’t play. I thought we had some good days, then got the guys away from it. Then we started this week and haven’t had a full complement of players since Monday.”

The absence of Kaiser, James and Thiessen would be major holes for UMD to fill against Colorado College, who UMD split with a month ago in Colorado Springs, losing 5-0 and winning 3-1.

Kaiser not only leads the Bulldogs, but all NCHC skaters, in average ice time per game at 26:14 a night. He’s played 30 or more minutes in each of UMD’s past three games while Dubinsky has been out of the lineup.

James gets the most average ice time of any UMD forward at 20:37 per game. He’s also the team’s leader in the faceoff circle at 55%, having won 143 of 258 draws this year.

Thiessen has started the last five games for UMD after relieving junior goalie Zach Stejskal 14:31 into the shutout loss at CC to open NCHC play. In six conference games, Thiessen has posted a .902 save percentage and 2.61 goals against average.

college men playing hockey
Minnesota Duluth goaltender Matthew Thiessen (36) blocks a shot on goal against Omaha at Amsoil Arena on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Even coming off a season played during a pandemic, Sandelin said nothing prepares a coach for a week like UMD has had post-Thanksgiving.

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“You just deal with it,” Sandelin said of the absences. “Every day, it’s wait for the trainer’s report.”

Bulldogs sophomore defenseman Owen Gallatin, who ranks second on the team in average time on ice at 22:23 per game, said it’s been an abnormal week of practice and working with a limited number of players is hard, but things have been trending upward.

The team is doing what it can to get ready for a quick rematch with the Tigers, he said.

“Today we had more guys back, which is positive,” Gallatin said Wednesday, “And then tomorrow we should have more guys back, and by the weekend we should be ready to go.”

MORE BULLDOGS HOCKEY COVERAGE:
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A challenge by Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell overturned a game-winning overtime goal for the Mavericks that came with 34 seconds left.
Fifth-place Minnesota Duluth entered the weekend hoping to catch fourth-place Western Michigan in the NCHC standings. That won't happen now following a 3-2 OT loss Friday.
Mannon McMahon, Gabbie Hughes and Mary Kate O'Brien scored three unanswered goals for UMD, which is back at Minnesota State at 2 p.m. Saturday in Mankato.
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Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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