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UMD men's hockey: Oilers a perfect fit for Fanti after living out dream of playing for Bulldogs

A native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Ryan Fanti said it was always his dream to play college hockey at Minnesota Duluth. Now he'll chase another dream of playing in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers.

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Minnesota Duluth goalie Ryan Fanti (39) watches the puck against St. Cloud State during the first period Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live
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DULUTH — Among the Bulldogs pounding on the glass and screaming themselves hoarse on Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul for the NHL debut of Minnesota Duluth senior captain Noah Cates was future Edmonton Oilers goalie Ryan Fanti.

Fanti, the Bulldogs junior goaltender, signed with the Oilers on Monday a little over 24 hours after his captain signed with the Philadelphia Flyers. Cates’ two-year entry-level deal begins this season, while Fanti’s two-year contract doesn’t kick in until 2022-23, meaning he still had some time to enjoy the NHL as a fan, before he became an employee.

“I was so happy to see him, and you can see his face light up when he saw us,” Fanti said. “To have pretty much every single guy on the team find a way to make it work and to get down there was super special.”

While Cates was drafted by the Flyers back in 2017, Fanti signed with the Oilers organization as a 22-year-old undrafted free agent following a single season as the undisputed No. 1 goaltender of the Bulldogs.

Fanti said it didn’t really cross his mind Tuesday he had taken a big step toward living out the same dream that Cates was living out that night at Xcel Energy Center. Fanti said he was just excited to see a former teammate play in the NHL in person. That was a first for him.

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“It still doesn’t feel real,” Fanti said of signing with the Oilers. “Nothing has hit me. I’ve just been hanging out with the guys, figuring out some school stuff. Life hasn’t really changed, yet.”

Fanti, the former Minnesota Wilderness goaltender, sat his entire freshman season, split time with Zach Stejskal a year ago, and then took over the starting role this year by posting a .929 save percentage and 1.83 goals against average with seven shutouts in 37 starts en route to being named the NCHC Goaltender of the Year.

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Minnesota Duluth goaltender Ryan Fanti (39) is introduced on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Fanti capped his Bulldogs career with a .961 save percentage and 1.14 GAA in the NCHC and NCAA tournaments, including three shutouts. UMD won the NCHC Frozen Faceoff title and came within a win of another NCAA Frozen Four.

“As much as I've grown as a hockey player, I’ve grown as a young man here,” Fanti said. “We’ve experienced so many life lessons and learn that kind of stuff through teammates and through best friends and through roommates through the coaching staff, all the team faculty, all that kind of stuff. Those experiences that you have on a day-to-day basis, and then you have those really cool ones when you get into playoffs and down the stretch, just different things like that. It's been an absolute dream. UMD, to come to play there was, my No. 1 dream growing up as a kid, playing college hockey.”

As of Thursday, Fanti is one of six college goaltenders to have signed an NHL deal this spring after the season ended and one of four from the NCHC along with Omaha’s Isaiah Saville (Vegas), St. Cloud State’s David Hrenak (Los Angeles) and Western Michigan’s Brandon Bussi (Boston).

Minnesota Duluth plays Denver in regional final game in Loveland
Minnesota Duluth goaltender Ryan Fanti (39) stops a shot on goal from Denver forward Cameron Wright (16) during the NCAA regional championship game on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colorado.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

A native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Fanti said he was unaware of how many NHL teams showed interest in him, as he was leaving all professional inquires during the season to his advisor. Had UMD been in the Frozen Four this week, he’d still be in the dark, wanting to focus solely on bringing the program another NCAA title.

Fanti said based on the research he and his team did, Edmonton was clearly the best fit as they looked at franchises’ goaltending depth , development system and the reputation of the American Hockey League franchise.

Once he gets his academics in order — Fanti isn't withdrawing from school, he’s finishing out this semester at UMD — he plans to join the Oilers’ AHL affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors, for a short stint on an amateur tryout agreement to familiarize himself with the franchise.

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“Nothing was even close in terms of just overall attractiveness and in the situation and how it fit in my shoes perfectly,” Fanti said of the Oilers. “Edmonton is an unbelievable franchise, with everything they have down from management to their actual team. Obviously they're a great team and you want to go somewhere because you want to win, right? You want to go and have that opportunity — if ever do get to play there — you want that opportunity to be on a good team, too, and to chase a Stanley Cup, which is crazy to say out loud.”

Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey prepares for NCAA Regional game against Michigan Tech
Minnesota Duluth goaltender Ryan Fanti (39) talks to the media during a press conference on Wednesday, March 23, 2022, at Budwieser Events Center in Loveland, Colorado.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

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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