UMD men's hockey: Bulldogs' captain Cates signs with Flyers, will make NHL debut Tuesday against Wild at Xcel
The Stillwater, Minnesota native helped the Bulldogs win an NCAA championship and two NCHC postseason titles in four seasons.
DULUTH — Minnesota Duluth senior captain Noah Cates has signed an entry-level NHL contract with the Philadelphia Flyers and will make his professional debut at 7 p.m. Tuesday approximately 21 miles from his hometown of Stillwater, Minnesota when the Flyers take on the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
The Bulldogs’ captain for the past two seasons signed a two-year contract with the Flyers on Sunday that begins with the 2021-22 season. Cates and the Bulldogs’ 2021-22 season ended on Saturday afternoon in Loveland, Colorado, with a 2-1 loss to Denver in an NCAA regional final.
Cates said, ideally, he would have liked to take a couple days to hang out longer in Duluth, spend more time with teammates and get his academics in order before signing with the Flyers, however, the process was expedited so he could make his debut at the rink where he won two NCHC Frozen Faceoff titles with the Bulldogs, and played at with Stillwater High School in the 2016 boys state hockey tournament.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Cates said Sunday about making his debut at Xcel. “There are going to be a lot of people there for me, so it’s going to be really special. I’ll have a ton of support. I couldn’t dream it up any better. I’m really looking forward to it and excited.”
A fifth-round draft pick of the Flyers in 2017, many believed Cates would sign with the Flyers a year ago after his junior season at UMD, especially after his older brother, Jackson, signed with Philadelphia as an undrafted free agent. Instead, Noah decided to return to UMD to serve a second consecutive season as captain.
Jackson — who Noah said is flying in to watch Tuesday’s game, but not play — is in his second season with the Flyers organization having signed after his junior season at UMD came to a close last spring. Jackson Cates played four games with the Flyers late last season and 11 this year — picking up his first NHL goal — but is currently in the American Hockey League with the Flyers’ top minor-league affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Returning to the wing, Noah Cates posted 11 goals and 13 assists in 35 games as a senior. He also represented the United States at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, scoring a goal for Team USA in the first of their four games while serving as an alternate captain.
Because the NCAA granted anyone who played during the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season an extra season of eligibility, Noah Cates could have returned to UMD in 2022-23 as a fifth-year senior. But Cates said he feels ready for the NHL. He’ll also be graduating with his degree in marketing after completing one more class this summer.
“Just coming back this year and having a more normal year, I feel ready and the Olympics helps,” Cates said. “I’m leaving UMD with no regrets. The last game was tough, but I had a phenomenal, awesome four years that were just so incredible on and off the ice. There’s nothing, kind of, to go back to here. The biggest thing was coming back and not having any regrets at UMD. I’m just happy I played this year out. We had a fun year and a really fun group.”
Cates helped the Bulldogs win an NCHC postseason title as a freshman in 2018-19, as well as the national championship that year in Buffalo, New York. He helped get the Bulldogs back to the NCAA Frozen Four a year ago in Pittsburgh, where UMD fell to eventual national champion Massachusetts. He added a second NCHC postseason title this season and had UMD within a win of the Frozen Four.
Cates finishes with 99 career points at UMD having totaled 39 goals and 60 assists, but as Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin has said over and over and over this season, the scoresheet isn’t where Cates makes the biggest impact. It’s everywhere else. He epitomizes the Bulldogs, Sandelin said.
“There’s a reason he’s wearing the C,” Sandelin said Thursday in Loveland when asked about Cates. “He just quietly does his job, and all the little things that the non-hockey person may not notice, but they are so valuable to the team. It’s great to see him play that way.”