Forecast bright for Bulldogs

If this is Scott Sandelin's best team in 11 seasons at Minnesota Duluth, it isn't a surprise to those following Division I men's hockey. One preseason national poll has the Bulldogs at No. 9. Western Collegiate Hockey Association polls by coaches...

If this is Scott Sandelin's best team in 11 seasons at Minnesota Duluth, it isn't a surprise to those following Division I men's hockey.

One preseason national poll has the Bulldogs at No. 9.

Western Collegiate Hockey Association polls by coaches and media, to be released this week, will likely have the Bulldogs in the top three of the remodeled 12-team league. It will be their best forecast this decade. Ample depth at every position gives UMD enough ammunition to improve on last season's fourth-place league finish.

"There was bitterness and disappointment when the season ended last year, but there's excitement about what could be this year. On paper, when you return so much of your team, expectations should be high," said Sandelin, 167-190-46 in

10 years as head coach.


UMD, 22-17-1 in 2009-10, advanced to the 2009 NCAA quarterfinals, then just missed making the 16-team Division I tournament field in 2010 after being ranked No. 17 in the final PairWise Rankings, which mimic the NCAA playoff selection process. A 4-4 nonconference mark ultimately ruined its chances, along with going 6-10 the final 16 games.

As UMD officially opens practice Saturday at the DECC, the battle for positions will be fierce, especially at the blue line with 10 defensemen. Senior captain Mike Montgomery leads that group.

If you like offense, then Jack Connolly centering Justin Fontaine and Mike Connolly is an appealing run-and-gun start. The were 1-2-3 in team scoring last season and tied for third in WCHA scoring with 33 points each. They spent part of 2009-10 together and will begin 2010-11 on the same line, and on the same power-play unit.

"It was difficult to handle last year to be on the bubble, and be so close to making the NCAA tournament. We believed we were good enough to be in there," said Jack Connolly, a 2010 second-team All-American. "We understand every game matters, right off the bat with the first game, and we expect this to be a good year."

Winger Rob Bordson of Duluth, with a year of eligibility remaining, signed with Anaheim in the NHL after recording 40 points last season, while sophomore goalie Brady Hjelle left to return to Cedar Rapids (Iowa) in the U.S. Hockey League. Captains Drew Akins and Jordan Fulton, two forwards, were seniors, along with defenseman Chase Ryan. Yet everyone else is back, including Montgomery, who some observers thought may turn professional. Senior winger Cody Danberg will sit out at least the first half of the season after undergoing knee surgery Aug. 17.

Montgomery, junior Brady Lamb, former first-round NHL draft pick Dylan Olsen and 2010 second-round pick Justin Faulk, a freshman, provide star quality. Chad Huttel is a senior as is Trent Palm, returning from hip surgery after a red-shirt season.

"We have a huge potential because of our depth," Montgomery said. "We have players who have proven themselves. We can look at how things finished last year and use that as fuel to the fire for this season, but we are more interested in just looking ahead."

Goalie Kenny Reiter came on to start 15 of the last 19 games in his first collegiate year last season and had a .912 save percentage and 2.36 goals-against average in going 13-10. The junior from Pittsburgh starts the season at No. 1 and will be pushed by freshman Aaron Crandall.


UMD led the WCHA in power-play percentage last season and was fourth in the league in scoring at 3.21 goals a game. However, even-strength scoring was lacking and penalty killing ranked sixth among 10 league teams.

"We've got all the important pieces to make a good team," said Mike Connolly, a junior left winger. "Our goal is to be a complete team, play hard and make things tough on the other team. We'd like to win the WCHA championship, but we know there are many steps to get there.

"Last year we didn't win enough games or the right games, and then it was out of our hands. We don't want that to happen again."

The 2010-11 season marks the addition of Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha to the WCHA, and marks the end of the DECC as UMD's home. The Bulldogs play their final games on the DECC ice Dec. 3-4 against Denver, before moving next door to the $80 million Amsoil Arena starting Dec. 30 in a single, non-conference game with North Dakota. Eight more regular-season games are scheduled for Amsoil Arena. Former UMD All-American forward Derek Plante also debuts as an assistant coach, following Steve Rohlik, now at Ohio State.

UMD opens on the road Oct. 8-9 at Lake Superior State in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and Northern Michigan in Marquette, Mich.

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