College men's hockey: Grand Rapids' Peterson to make Bulldogs debut Saturday at Bemidji State
Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin has become quite the jokester at his weekly news conferences. A week after inadvertently making a tall joke about 6-foot-6 senior defenseman Brenden Kotyk, Sandelin took aim at junior transfer and Grand Rapid...
Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin has become quite the jokester at his weekly news conferences.
A week after inadvertently making a tall joke about 6-foot-6 senior defenseman Brenden Kotyk, Sandelin took aim at junior transfer and Grand Rapids native Avery Peterson, who was waiting in the wings Wednesday to address the media at Amsoil Arena.
As Sandelin walked toward the Champions Lodge exit, he turned and offered advice to Peterson, who was about to sit down in front of a bevy of microphones and recorders.
“You better not suck,” Sandelin shouted, with a grin.
The former Thunderhawk laughed, thanked his coach for the support and cheerfully began fielding questions about his impending return to NCAA Division I men’s hockey, which is slated for 7:07 p.m. Saturday when the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs take on No. 15 Bemidji State at Sanford Center in Bemidji, Minn. Game 1 is at 7:07 p.m. Friday at Amsoil Arena.
Per NCAA transfer rules, Peterson has been forced to sit out the last 52 weeks - or two full semesters - after coming to UMD from Nebraska-Omaha midway through last year. He’s been able to practice and work out with the Bulldogs, but not play in games.
UMD’s semester officially ends Friday, meaning Saturday is the day Peterson said he will officially become a Bulldog in his eyes.
“It’s pretty exciting, not only for me but for my family as well,” Peterson said. “It’s been a long year just sitting and practicing, working out and whatnot. To finally see that light at the end of the tunnel is definitely a good feeling.
“Guys were complaining we had two weeks off before (the series against) Denver. It’s been 52 for me.”
Peterson left the Mavericks - a program he helped take to the Frozen Four as a freshman - after a season and a half to be closer to his older brother, Evan, who is battling an extremely rare and terminal genetic brain disease called metachromatic leukodystrophy (MLD).
Peterson posted 11 goals and 10 assists as a freshman during the Mavs’ run to the Frozen Four, but strugglied to maintain his spot in Omaha’s lineup as a sophomore. He posted just one point - an assist in what was his last game as a Maverick on Dec. 5, 2015 at St. Cloud State - in 14 games last season.
Now in Duluth, Peterson is again fighting for a spot in a lineup. He’ll have a place Saturday against the Beavers thanks in part to freshman wing Joey Anderson being unavailable. Anderson is taking part in a U.S. National Junior Team training camp this weekend in Buffalo, N.Y.
Peterson knows little is guaranteed after that. He understands he’ll have to battle just like everyone else to crack the lineup of a team that’s leading the NCHC and ranked No. 1 in the human polls and computer rankings.
“I think the coaches are in a tough position with that,” Peterson said. “It’s a good problem to have, because it means we have a good team.
“I just want to come in, try to earn a spot on the team and contribute and help the team continue the success that we’ve had. It’s kind of a tough situation when you come in and the team is doing so well. You don’t want to mess that up.”
Sandelin said Peterson likely won’t debut Saturday at his natural position of center. He’ll probably play on the wing, which Peterson said he’s done before.
The center position was viewed as a potential weakness for UMD to start the season. To fill the gap, UMD moved sophomore Adam Johnson to the middle from wing and the Hibbing native has excelled at the position, tallying seven goals and seven assists alongside senior Kyle Osterberg and junior Karson Kuhlman.
Sandelin said his current centerman - Johnson, senior Dominic Toninato and juniors Jared Thomas and Sammy Spurrell - have been “pretty good” though he’d like to see them and the rest of the team improve on faceoffs.
Thomas, of Hermantown, is currently the only Bulldogs center with a faceoff percentage above 50 percent (.507).
“We threw Adam in a spot he hasn’t played in a while. He’s done admirably well,” Sandelin said. “I still don’t like our faceoffs, and it’s not just the centers. Again, an area I thought we were making progress. I didn’t think we were very good last weekend (at Denver). It’s an area that maybe if Avery does play in the middle, maybe he can help.”
As Peterson said, Sandelin will have tough decisions to make when Anderson returns from the junior national team, but it’s a good situation to be in.
Peterson likely will not displace anyone on the top two lines: Toninato, Anderson and Alex Iafallo, or Osterberg, Johnson and Kuhlman. The line of freshman Riley Tufte, Thomas and sophomore Parker Mackay has struggled to score, but it’s been a high-energy line as of late that’s been strong defensively.
The same goes for the fourth-liners: freshman Jade Miller, Spurrell and sophomore Billy Exell. That line posted two goals against Denver, and Spurrell and Exell have emerged as key penalty killers.
“I like our mixture,” Sandelin said. “I think you saw a little bit of that this past weekend with Sammy and Billy and Jade. Those guys are contributing. When you get that from those types of lines, it certainly helps your team.
“Getting a guy like Avery in the mix, hopefully it creates a good, healthy dose of competition. There are going to be guys who are not going to be playing and guys are going to have to work hard. It’s going to create less complacency in our lineup and that can only help.”
BEMIDJI STATE (13-5-2) VS. UMD (11-3-2)
What: Nonconference series
When: 7:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Friday at Amsoil Arena; Saturday at Sanford Center in Bemidji
TV: My9 Friday; WDSE Ch. 8 Saturday
Radio: WWAX-FM 92.1
Internet: http://921thefan.com (audio); http://nchc.tv (video)