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College men's hockey: Bulldogs fill out lineup with Exell

Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin was unsure in the spring whether or not he would add another recruit to the Bulldogs' 2015-16 roster despite having room for one more forward.

Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin was unsure in the spring whether or not he would add another recruit to the Bulldogs’ 2015-16 roster despite having room for one more forward.
Considering what the Bulldogs went through in 2014-15 with injuries and suspensions, it’s probably a good thing Sandelin decided to fill that position by adding former Minnesota Wilderness wing Billy Exell.
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound forward from Thunder Bay, Ontario, played the past two seasons with the Wilderness, helping the team win the North American Hockey League’s Robertson Cup with 17 goals and 25 assists in 67 games, including three goals and five assists in the postseason.
Exell said he was contacted after the Wilderness’ NAHL title run by UMD, which told him there was a spot available. Exell said he received another offer from Niagara University, but playing for the team he followed growing up in Thunder Bay was too hard to pass up.
“I know I’m going to have to work to get into the lineup because they have a strong team now,” Exell said. “I see myself as being a role player playing good offense and good defense, just being a complete guy on the team.”
The Bulldogs already had signed forwards Adam Johnson of Hibbing and Parker Mackay, defenseman Neal Pionk of Hermantown and third-string goaltender Nick Deery to replace graduated forwards Adam Krause of Hermantown and Justin Crandall, defensemen Derik Johnson and third-string goaltender Alex Fons from the 2014-15 squad that helped the Bulldogs reach the NCAA Northeast Regional final.
Exell replaces forward Brett Boehm, who left the team midway through his freshman season. That departure proved costly later on in the second half when the Bulldogs had to play eight games with a defenseman at forward, including an NCHC playoff game with two defensemen at forward due to injuries and suspensions stemming from illegal hits.
The addition of Exell leaves the Bulldogs with 15 forwards, eight defensemen and three goaltenders going into 2015-16 - or three spare forwards, two spare defensemen and a pair of backup goaltenders - assuming the team doesn’t get hit with any surprises, such as someone turning pro early.
Johnson and Pionk, who both played in the United States Hockey League with the Sioux City Musketeers last winter, likely will step into the lineup right away while Mackay, of Irma, Alberta, and the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Spruce Grove Saints, and Exell battle for playing time with other returning players.
“I’m not expecting to be playing on the top line or playing every game,” Exell said. “As a freshman coming in, that’s high expectations for yourself. I think no matter who you are, you have to work your way into the lineup. I think if you prove yourself, you’ll get the chance to play.”
NHL camps underway
At least seven members of the 2015-16 Bulldogs and one former player have or will take part in NHL development camps this summer. That number could expand since some teams (such as the Minnesota Wild, who own the rights to UMD defenseman Carson Soucy) have yet to announce their rosters.
Pionk will join goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo and former Bulldog Caleb Herbert at the Washington Capitals camp July 7-11 while Johnson just finished participating in the Columbus Blue Jackets camp, which ran June 29-July 2.
“I enjoyed it. I learned a lot in a week. They teach you about a lot of stuff on the ice and off the ice so it’s a great learning experience. That’s what it’s all about,” said Johnson, who turned down invites from Anaheim and Philadelphia because Columbus contacted him first.
“I appreciate (Columbus) asking and everything,” Johnson continued, talking by phone Friday from Columbus, Ohio. “They’ll always be one of my top options, but I would also like to see a couple other teams and experience different places to see what is out there.”
The Capitals’ camp is the second of the summer for Kaskisuo, who also took part in the New York Rangers camp June 29-July 3.
Forward Alex Iafallo, who took part in the Wild camp last summer, is participating in the Tampa Bay Lightning camp that wraps up Saturday; Duluth’s Andy Welinski, who will captain the Bulldogs as a senior, is participating in the Ducks camp that runs through July 6; and junior center Tony Cameranesi and sophomore forward Dominic Toninato will be at the Toronto Maple Leafs camp July 7-12.
Welinski, Cameranesi and Toninato all were drafted by their respective teams while Iafallo, Kaskisuo, Pionk and Johnson are free-agent invites. Herbert is in the Capitals’ minor-league system.
Recruits named to select team
UMD verbal commitments Scott Perunovich of Hibbing and Riley Tufte of Ham Lake, Minn., were named this week to the U.S. Under-18 Select Team that will participate in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament from Aug. 10-15 in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Perunovich, a 5-9, 148-pound defenseman who turns 17 on Aug. 18, scored 11 goals and 45 assists in 27 games for Hibbing High School this past season. He’s a draft pick of the United States Hockey League’s Cedar Rapids Roughriders.
Tufte, a 17-year-old, 6-5, 210-pound forward, scored 29 goals and 34 assists in 30 games for Blaine High School before finishing the year with the USHL’s Fargo Force. He was a part of the U-17 Select Team that finished second at the 2014 Under-17 Five Nations Tournament in Germany last summer.
Both players are projected to join UMD either in 2017 or 2018.
The U.S. Under-18 Select Team is coached by former Bulldogs assistant coach and Cloquet native Derek Plante, who coached the U.S. U-18s to third place in the 2014 Ivan Hlinka. Plante resigned from UMD in late June after five seasons as an assistant.

Related Topics: HOCKEY
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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