With cancer behind him, Stejskal in line to begin season as Bulldogs starting goaltender

Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin wouldn't reveal who his starting goaltender would be this weekend against Arizona State, but he did indicate that as the incumbent, junior Zach Stejskal of Cohasset has the edge.

Minnesota Duluth goaltender Zach Stejskal (35) eyes the puck in the third period against Bemidji State on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, at the Sanford Center in Bemidji.
Jillian Gandsey / File / Forum News Service
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DULUTH — Asked on Wednesday at Amsoil Arena who his starting goaltender would be on Saturday and Sunday in the season-opening nonconference series against Arizona State, Minnesota Duluth men's hockey coach Scott Sandelin was coy.

“You’ll find out,” Sandelin said with a smirk, later adding, “You probably know who, but will have to wait until Saturday.”

The who — for those who haven’t been paying close attention to Bulldogs hockey as of late — is junior Zach Stejskal, the Cohasset native and former standout goalie for Grand Rapids High School.

Stejskal shared the net with Ryan Fanti during the second half of his freshman year in 2020-21 and played in two key postseason games at the end of that season.

He played the majority of the five-overtime win over North Dakota in the NCAA regional final in Fargo before being relieved by Fanti due to cramping. At the NCAA Frozen Four in Pittsburgh — with Fanti back in Duluth due to testing positive for COVID-19 — Stejskal got the start in the loss to eventual national champion Massachusetts.


“Zach (Stejskal) has proven he can play, right?” Sandelin said. “It was great to get him back last year and get him in games, and see him back on the ice and practicing. He's had a great summer.”

Stejskal posted a .929 save percentage and 1.83 goals against average in nine games as a freshman, and shared the net with Fanti during the first two weekends of 2021-22. A testicular cancer diagnosis in mid-October slammed the brakes on his second season at UMD, though he was able to return to the team and got in two games — one start, one relief appearance for an ill Fanti — in the month of February.

By then, Fanti had already established himself as the undisputed starter. Posting a .929 save percentage and 1.83 GAA in 37 starts, he led UMD to an NCHC Frozen Faceoff title, led them to the NCAA regional final in Loveland and then signed with the Edmonton Oilers organization in the spring.

New episodes of the Bulldog Insider Podcast air every Thursday wherever you listen to podcasts.
A stomach bug impacting the UMD locker room Saturday prompted the early return to the crease for goaltender Zach Stejskal, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in the fall.
Sophomore goaltender Zach Stejskal played his first game since his testicular cancer diagnosis and backstopped the Bulldogs to victory after junior goaltender Ryan Fanti was unable to finish the game.
UMD sophomore goaltender Zach Stejskal is battling testicular cancer, and his teammates are raising funds for Movember to bring awareness to the illness, among other men's health issues. Teammates have raised over $4,400 with the mustaches heading into this weekend's series against Alaska at Amsoil Arena.
The 21-year-old former Grand Rapids High School goalie has undergone surgery and is receiving chemotherapy. He said he plans to return to the ice this season.

With cancer behind him — Stejskal “rang the bell” as cancer-free in December — Stejskal said he’s ready to be the Bulldogs’ go-to-guy in goal this season like Fanti was a year ago, or like fellow Cohasset native Hunter Shepard was for three seasons from 2017-2020.

“Competition is a good thing, but ultimately, I think as a goalie, you want to be the guy in the net,” Stejskal said. “I want to be that guy for us this year. You’ve seen it in years past where one guy has taken the job and I am definitely shooting for that this year.”

After losing Fanti to the Oilers and Ben Patt to graduation, the Bulldogs brought in two goaltenders this offseason: freshman Zach Sandy of Fargo, North Dakota, and the Minot Minotauros of the North American Hockey League, along with junior Matthew Thiessen, a transfer from Maine and 2018 seventh-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks.

With Ben Patt electing not to return for a sixth season and Ryan Fanti signing an NHL contract, Zach Stejskal will be the only returning goaltender for UMD in 2022-23. The Bulldogs will bring in Zach Sandy from the NAHL and Maine junior Matthew Thiesen.

Sandelin said goaltending is a “hard position to predict,” but he plans to ride the hot goaltender as he has in previous seasons. As the incumbent goalie, Stejskal has the edge to get that first shot in net, Sandelin said.

“We're excited about Matthew and Zach — the other Zach — who was coming regardless of whether Fanti left or not,” Sandelin said. “So we feel good about where we're at with with those guys.”


And Stejskal is excited to pass down the traditions that he learned from working with Fanti and Patt, while also coming up with new ones for him, Thiessen and Sandy.

"The roles have switched. Crazy, last year I was one of the younger guys on the team, and now my role has completely flipped," Stejskal said. "We had a goalie skate on the ice today and we're doing different stuff, just having fun out there. Those guys bringing new energy and bringing new ideas and thoughts on the ice is fun."

Defenseman Darian Gotz scored just over two and a half minutes in, winger Luke Loheit had three assists and goaltender Matthew Thiessen got the shutout as the Bulldogs split their series with the Tigers.

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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