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UMD men's hockey: Lellig enters transfer portal as Bulldogs eye major turnover of roster

The NCAA's reinstatement of a maximum of 18 full scholarships for hockey for 2022-23 has put teams and players in tough spots, and the Bulldogs are now facing their biggest influx of new faces since bringing in 10 freshmen in 2017-18.

Men's hockey players in black uniforms compete against players in white uniforms at Amsoil Arena
The Minnesota Duluth bench celebrates the game-winning goal with Minnesota Duluth defenseman Hunter Lellig (8) in the third period against Western Michigan on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Minnesota Duluth senior defenseman Hunter Lellig became the fifth Bulldog — and third defenseman — to enter the NCAA’s transfer portal on Wednesday.

Lellig, 23, has two seasons of eligibility remaining after receiving a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA because he missed the majority of his sophomore season in 2019-20 with a broken leg. He had two goals and 10 assists in 98 career games at UMD and was part of the national championship team in 2018-19 as a freshman.

“The staff, I can't say enough good things about everybody here,” said Lellig, who is graduating with a bachelor's degree in finance this spring. He’s hoping to pursue a master's in finance. “The staff, trainers, everybody, they've been so good to me. My time here has been unbelievable. I had great teammates, definitely made a lot of memories that'll last a lifetime.”

A native of Waterloo, Iowa, Lellig called it an “extremely tough” decision to move on from the Bulldogs.

“You spend four years of your life in a place you’re familiar with — the town, the people, the rink, everything — and then having to jump into a new situation is definitely scary,” Lellig said. “It’s not something that’s easy. It’s a lot harder than people think it is.”

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Minnesota Duluth Men’s Hockey faces North Dakota at Amsoil Arena Friday
Minnesota Duluth defenseman Hunter Lellig (8) skates with the puck against North Dakota defenseman Tyler Kleven (25) on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

In 2021-22, the Bulldogs brought back four seniors — plus a redshirt senior goaltender and they added a graduate transfer center — for the fifth season the NCAA granted everyone who played during the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, however, schools were allowed to exceed the limit of 18 full scholarships.

That salary cap is now back in place for 2022-23 and beyond, meaning programs have to balance the long-term scholarship commitments made to recruits and possible short-term gains of bringing back a senior for a fifth season.

The Bulldogs are bringing back just two fifth-year seniors for 2022-23 as it was announced Wednesday night that winger and assistant captain Tanner Laderoute would be back, as would centerman Jesse Jacques of Hermantown.

“We knew this day was coming,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “You got to make some tough decisions, and that’s a s—y thing, but it’s the way it goes.”

While the return of Laderoute and Jacques provides depth at forward — Jacques' return was key to strengthening the center position — Lellig's departure leaves another hole for UMD to fill on the blue line, where they are losing five of their nine defensemen from 2021-22, including three of the top six. So far, just three freshmen defensemen are set to come in this fall: NHL draft prospect Aiden Dubinsky, the 6-foot-3 Riley Bodnarchuk and Hermantown's Joey Pierce.

A database of Minnesota Duluth men's hockey recruits for the 2022-23 season and beyond

UMD is losing its top pairing of fifth-year senior defensemen and two-time national champions Matt Anderson and Louie Roehl, who have run out of eligibility. Also gone from the top six, in a move that Sandelin admitted he didn’t see coming, is sophomore defenseman Connor Kelley — one of the five Bulldogs to enter the portal this spring. He has left UMD for Providence.

Lellig is one of two senior defensemen in the transfer portal along with Jake Rosenbaum, who played in just seven games this past year. Junior forward Ben Almquist and senior forward Jarrett Lee are also transferring after seeing minimal time this past season.

“They want an opportunity to find a place to play a little bit more, and I’m fine with that,” Sandelin said. “I want them to be happy.”

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Lellig played in 41 of 42 games this past year for UMD, but mostly in the role of the seventh defenseman. He said his decision to leave UMD was partially a financial decision, and partially related to potential playing time next season.

“All I’ve wanted to do is play, and I feel like I am good enough to play,” Lellig said. “They’re bringing some guys in, some young guys that are going to get opportunities, who are really good. I just didn’t see myself fitting the way I kind of want it to go. It’s definitely a hard decision my four years here have been unbelievable, but for the longevity — hopefully — of my career, it was time.”

Major roster turnover

With six fifth-year players moving on, two players signing NHL contracts and five players transferring out, the Bulldogs are facing the biggest turnover of their roster since 2017-18 when they brought in 10 freshman that fall.

Sandelin said Tuesday he’s looking to bring just as many players for 2022-23, maybe more.

“We’re going to certainly have a lot of turnover, and that’s exciting, too,” Sandelin said. “It’s kind of time to pass the torch to some younger guys and hopefully those younger guys have learned a lot from the guys that are leaving.”

The Bulldogs have 10 players secured for 2022-23, including five freshman forwards, three freshmen defensemen, a freshman goaltender and a transfer goaltender from Maine in Matt Thiessen. That fifth freshman forward and 10th player overall came Wednesday evening when the USHL's Lincoln Stars announced 20-year-old Luke Johnson — 15 goals and 17 assists this year — of St. Cloud had committed to the Bulldogs for 2022-23.

Sandelin said Tuesday prior to Johnson's commitment to expect at least one more player from the transfer portal — “We’re just looking for the right fit right now” — and possibly a recruit or two.

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“I like the mix. It's going to be exciting. You get some some fresh faces. We've got good returning guys,” Sandelin said. “Time will tell, but I think we’re all excited. A little bit of changeover is good. It’s going to be different because we relied on a lot of those guys and their experience.”

Outgoing from 2021-22

Kobe Roth, 5thSr, F (Grad)
Casey Gilling, 5thSr, F (Grad)
Noah Cates, Sr, F (Grad/NHL)
Koby Bender, 5thSr, F (Grad)
Ben Almquist, Jr, F (Transfer)
Jarrett Lee, Sr, F (Grad/Transfer)

Matt Anderson, 5thSr, D (Grad)
Louie Roehl, 5thSr, D (Grad)
Connor Kelley, So, D (Transfer)
Hunter Lellig, Sr, D (Grad/Transfer)
Jake Rosenbaum, Sr, D (Grad/Transfer)

Ryan Fanti, Jr, G (NHL)
Ben Patt, RSr, G (Grad)

Incoming for 2022-23

Freshmen
Kyle Bettens, F, Youngstown (USHL)
Jack Smith, F, Sioux Falls (USHL)
Ben Steeves, F, Sioux City (USHL)
Isaac Howard, F, USA Hockey National Team Development Program
Luke Johnson, F, Lincoln (USHL)

Aiden Dubinsky, D, Tri-City (USHL)
Riley Bodnarchuk, D, Okotoks (AJHL)
Joey Pierce, D, Lincoln (USHL)

Zach Sandy, G, Minot (NAHL)

Transfers
Matthew Thiessen, G, Maine

This story was updated at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 13, 2022, with the announcement that Tanner Laderoute and Jesse Jacques were returning for a fifth season, and at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 13, 2022, with the commitment of Luke Johnson to UMD. It was originally posted at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 13, 2022.

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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