College men's hockey: Mackay's leadership key ingredient for Bulldogs this season
For Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin, the 2018-19 season is a new year. Yes, he's excited to hang the 2018 NCAA championship banner prior to Saturday's 7:07 p.m. opener against Minnesota at Amsoil Arena, but he's much more anxious to turn th...
For Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin, the 2018-19 season is a new year.
Yes, he's excited to hang the 2018 NCAA championship banner prior to Saturday's 7:07 p.m. opener against Minnesota at Amsoil Arena, but he's much more anxious to turn the page to this season.
There is one topic, however, he's happy to reminisce about. It's the same topic that has consistently brought a smile to his face in the six months since beating Notre Dame at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. It's the leadership given to last season's NCAA champions by captains Karson Kuhlman and Parker Mackay.
"I can't say enough about our leadership last year; Karson was outstanding and Parker was outstanding," Sandelin said. "Those guys really had to navigate through some silly, stupid things at times - some that got aggravating or frustrating. It's not just with hockey. It's everything that goes with it. They did a great job."
Kuhlman has graduated and moved on to the Boston Bruins system, but Mackay is back to wear the 'C' as a senior this season. The wing from Irma, Alberta, may be the most important piece returning from the 2017-18 championship squad, even more so than the starting goaltender, the top six defensemen and leading scorers.
The first non-Northland native to wear the 'C' for the Bulldogs since Joe Basaraba in 2013-14, Sandelin said Mackay continues what has been a line of strong captains for the program, with one of those - Basaraba's co-captain in 13-14, Hermantown native Adam Krause - now a member of the UMD coaching staff.
"We've been blessed with good leaders, and I think that's really been important to our success," Sandelin said. "We have a lot of important parts, but (leadership) is a big part of it. It seems like every year we've had guys learn and follow in the footsteps of real good leaders. I think that's made our team stronger in that department."
Mackay, as well as assistant captains Billy Exell and Nick Wolff, face a much different challenge leading UMD this season compared to what the leadership faced a year ago. They'll all take on different roles from what Kuhlman and Mackay did last season.
It starts with molding the newest group of Bulldogs. UMD once again brings in a large freshmen class, but this year's group of seven are much older - by nearly a year on average - than the 10 who came in last fall. The 2018-19 freshmen are all a year or more removed from graduating high school and all possess at least one full season of junior hockey experience on their resume.
"It will be fun to see those freshmen come in, they are a little older," Mackay said. "It's going to be fun to see how the sophomores react to being in their second year in the league. They know what to expect now. It's going to be interesting moving through this first month."
Mackay said the biggest challenge for this year's captains will be fighting complacency, which is what UMD's NCHC rivals - Denver and North Dakota - warned can happen the year after winning a national championship.
Sophomore defenseman Dylan Samberg doesn't see complacency being much of a problem with Mackay leading UMD this year.
"He'll call people out if they're not having a good practice," Samberg said. "He's been really supportive along with everything as well."
In addition to accountability, Mackay also brings energy, said Exell, the senior wing from Thunder Bay, Ontario. Exell said he saw that last year out of Mackay, both on the ice and in the locker room.
"His energy on the ice was always huge," Exell said. "Whether we were having a good practice or slow practice, he was always encouraging us to be more energized, have fun out here. This is our time away from school, away from home. This is where we love to be. He always encourages that."
While he does need to be mindful of it, Mackay isn't too worried about the Bulldogs getting complacent. The team did win the national championship last season, but they almost missed the NCAA tournament as well, slipping past Minnesota by one ten-thousandth of a percentage point.
Mackay and the Bulldogs celebrated .0001 all summer long, even having it etched into their national championship rings, but now that number serves as a reminder of just how important each and every game is throughout a season.
"We can look at every game like it's an important game. Us beating Minnesota in overtime last year was the reason we got in," Mackay said. "Every game is a big game. That was the first game of the season. Once everybody understands just how big every game is, that's when we are playing our best hockey."
NO. 13 MINNESOTA AT NO. 1 MINNESOTA DULUTH
What: Regular-season opener
When: 7:07 p.m. Saturday
Where: Amsoil Arena
Radio: KDAL-AM 610/KDAL-FM 103.9
Internet: nchc.tv (video)
Fast fact: The Bulldogs will raise the 2018 NCAA championship banner to the rafters of Amsoil Arena in a pregame ceremony