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College men's hockey: Spurrell, McCormack step up for banged-up Bulldogs

With injuries mounting, Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin was asked Saturday after a pair of losses in St. Cloud about the luxury of having a pair of spare seniors he could turn to.

The coach’s response: “It’s nice right now to have anybody to come in.”

Thankfully for Sandelin, he didn’t have to turn to just anybody to fill out his lineup against the now top-ranked Huskies, inserting senior center Sammy Spurrell as the final healthy forward on Friday and senior defenseman Nick McCormack as the final healthy defenseman on Saturday.

Sammy SpurrellSpurrell has played in 80 games over the past five seasons — he took a medical redshirt in 2014-15 — while McCormack has seen just 26 games since arriving at UMD as a freshman in 2014-15.

“They’re seniors, they were ready to play. They always are when called upon,” said Sandelin, whose No. 12 Bulldogs (4-4-2 overall, 0-2 NCHC) host No. 18 Western Michigan (5-3-1, 2-0) in a pair of 7:07 p.m. NCHC games Friday and Saturday at Amsoil Arena. “Both went in and did a very good job. They kept the game simple. Sammy played both nights and is getting rewarded for that by playing on a different line this week.”

Sandelin said Spurrell may not be as fast as some on the team, but the fifth-year senior is one of the smartest and that shows, especially on the penalty kill. Spurrell knows where he needs to be, how to position his body and is strong with his stick, Sandelin said.

Despite the high praise, the games were just the second and third of the season for Spurrell, who picked up his seventh goal and 12th point of his career playing alongside former linemates Blake Young and Billy Exell on Friday.

Spurrell played in 27 of UMD’s first 28 games last season — mostly alongside Exell with Young rotating in and out — before losing his fourth-line center role to Jared Thomas. Spurrell played just two of the final 14 games in the 2016-17 season.

“It felt great getting back in there,” Spurrell said. “That’s why I’m here. I want to play. I’m just trying to make the most of it now.”

Nick McCormackMcCormack appeared in just four games as a junior — and none after Nov. 18 at Nebraska-Omaha — after playing 20 games during his first two seasons combined. He’s still searching for his first collegiate goal, something teammates joke about, he said.

With 10 freshmen on the roster, including five defensemen, McCormack said whether he’s on or off the ice, he’s been trying to keep smiles on everyone’s face. That’s especially true now as the team battles through injuries at the start of conference play.

“You don’t want to walk into the room and have everyone down,” McCormack said. “We’ve had that in previous years where we have a bad weekend and everyone is down. You have to keep the mood light.”

Bender makes college debut

After sitting out the first eight games of the season, freshman wing Koby Bender made his collegiate debut at St. Cloud State playing in both games.

Bender only saw about four shifts in Friday’s disjointed special teams battle, though one of those was an extended shift where he and his linemates were trapped in their own zone for two minutes.

Bender said he felt a lot more comfortable Saturday, a game that featured more 5-on-5 time and regular shifts for the Cloquet native who played for both the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Lumberjacks and Minnesota Wilderness. Bender said he was able to get into a rhythm more Saturday.

“The shifts he got hopefully will benefit him down the road,” Sandelin said. “He’s still got to get that experience. He got a little taste of it. Hopefully that helps him confidence-wise getting in there and getting some shifts at this level.”

Hilderman, Peterson return

The Bulldogs’ injury report is down to three after ballooning to five over the weekend.

Senior forward Avery Peterson, who missed four games, and sophomore defenseman Jarod Hilderman, who missed three, are both good to go this weekend against the Broncos, Sandelin said.

Sophomore forward Joey Anderson and freshman defenseman Mikey Anderson both remain doubtful, while freshman forward Nick Swaney has been ruled out. All have upper-body injuries.

Swaney and Joey Anderson were injured Oct. 28 at Maine while Mikey Anderson was knocked out of Friday’s game in St. Cloud after taking a pair of illegal hits.

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

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