Once plentiful inside the Bulldogs locker room, Jacques and Laderoute are the last of UMD's ring bearers
The Minnesota Duluth men's hockey team has traded in double-digit national champions for double-digit newcomers this season, leaving fifth year seniors Jesse Jacques and Tanner Laderoute the lone
DULUTH — The Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey program has been blessed with a luxury that few in college hockey have experienced over the previous decades.
Since winning the first of back-to-back NCAA championships in 2018 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, the Bulldogs have entered the last four seasons with at least 10 or more players on the roster who have been part of a national championship team.
The last three seasons have even included five or more players with two national championship rings in their collection.
Now three seasons removed from the 2019 NCAA title in Buffalo, UMD enters the 2022-23 season with double-digit newcomers instead of double-digit national champions. The Bulldogs' three-time NCAA championship coach Scott Sandelin — entering his 23rd season at UMD — has brought in 10 freshmen and a pair of transfers this year.
Sandelin returns 14 from last year’s team that won the NCHC Frozen Faceoff — after tying for fourth in the league in the regular season — before falling in an NCAA regional final to eventual national champion Denver in Loveland, Colorado. However, the Bulldogs now only have nine players who have been to an NCAA Frozen Four and just two with rings — fifth-year seniors Jesse Jacques and Tanner Laderoute.
Even Sandelin’s coaching staff is lighter on championship rings this season than years past as first-year college assistant coach Cody Chupp replaces Derek Plante, a member of Sandelin’s staff for the program’s first title in 2011.
Adam Krause, whose first season as a coach at UMD was during the 2018-19 championship run, was elevated to associate head coach in August. The Hermantown native said he has mixed feelings about not working with many of the players who helped bring the Bulldogs back-to-back national championships, but he’s also excited to coach a group that is excited to be at UMD and excited to bring the Bulldogs more titles.
“It's exciting to have players come here because they want to win. Now it's about teaching them what it took to win and getting them to buy into that,” Krause said. “They’ll learn as we go. They’ll probably grow a greater respect for the players that they did watch go through this. It's not easy. You have to go through some extremely talented, well-coached teams to do it.”
Easier said than done
The Bulldogs enter this season having made seven straight NCAA tournament appearances. In that span, they’ve also won three NCHC Frozen Faceoff titles, went to four straight Frozen Fours, played in three consecutive NCAA title games and won two national championships.
It’s a run that UMD’s 10 freshmen have grown up watching — literally. Some have even been to Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul to see it in person.
That means the team leaders like Jacques and Laderoute can skip over the whole speech about what the program’s goal is this season. Everyone already knows what it is. It’s why they came.
“The young guys are always telling us how fun it was to watch us. And you know, it's pretty cool, because now they're here and now it's their turn to help us out,” said Jacques, who now has freshman teammates who were between 14-15 years old when he won an NCAA title. “That's just something that we are definitely looking forward to. We want to bring these guys to the national championship. UMD is known for making the Frozen Four every year. We're very capable of that no matter what team we have.”
Knowing the goals and expectations of the program and knowing how to achieve all that are two very different things, though, said Laderoute, the Bulldogs’ captain in 2022-23. It’s his job to pass down that knowledge and push his teammates like Parker Mackay, Hunter Shepard and Nick Wolff — just to name a few — did in previous years.
It’s the little things that will make the difference between playing in the 2023 NCAA Men’s Frozen Four on April 6-8 in Tampa, Florida, or not, and that all starts in September, Laderoute said.
“You can kind of see what's going on from the outside, but really until you get on the inside, you don't really know exactly what it's like,” Laderoute said. “I watched them win the 2018 national championship on TV, but when I came in, it was a whole different monster — and not in a negative way.
“We expect a lot. We expect to be playing April 10th-ish, whenever that last game of the year is. We expect to be playing there every year. With that expectation comes a lot. There's a culture that's passed down. Starting with my freshman year, Parker Mackay passed that down to me, so I'm just trying to pass that down to them. It's a lot. You need to bring it every single day. You can't just show up on Friday and Saturday and expect to win games.”
Seeking some normalcy
Leading a team with 12 newcomers, including 10 freshmen, may not seem normal. But considering what Laderoute and Jacques have gone through recently, the 2022-23 season has been is as normal as it gets, and it feels good, they said.
“When you get a lot of guys like that, you just never know how the team is going to form and we just kind of gelled right away,” Jacques said. “Everything is awesome.”
UMD’s 10 freshmen this year include NHL draft picks Issac Howard (2022, 1st round, Tampa Bay), Cole Spicer (2022, Rd. 4, Boston) and Jack Smith (2020, Rd. 4, Montreal). Another forward, Ben Steeves, put up 67 points last year in the USHL.
Over the previous three seasons, Laderoute said it’s been tough to communicate the culture of the program with all the various concerns and restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of that team building happens away from the rink, and it starts in the summer.
Little of that happened, even last year. But this season has been different, so far. This summer felt like a real summer, Laderoute said. The result is a different dynamic, and a high fitness level, according to the captain.
“We wanted it to be normal so bad last year that we kind of willed it to be normal, but it was still weird,” Ladeoute said. “We were still testing. We were still nervous about going to the grocery store and touching the wrong box.
“I feel like I’ve been in limbo for three years now. I had one normal season and then half of a normal season. I’m excited for the opportunity to play again at Amsoil with our community, our fans. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”