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College men's hockey: UMD transfer Krieger back to full strength, centering top line

Bulldogs junior center Peter Krieger brings the puck down along the boards during Saturday's game against Western Michigan at Amsoil Arena. Krieger has been playing on UMD's top line after transferring from Alaska-Fairbanks. Steve Kuchera /

While Minnesota Duluth's 2016-17 campaign was one for the record books, it was a tough year for Bulldogs junior center Peter Krieger.

Per NCAA transfer rules, Krieger had to sit out the season after transferring to UMD from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. It was the first time in Krieger's hockey career that he was able to take a step back and look at the big picture.

Now Krieger is back on the ice not just practicing, but centering the top line night in and night out for the Bulldogs, who travel to play Miami this weekend in NCHC play at Goggin Ice Center in Oxford, Ohio. Friday's game starts at 6:35 p.m. and Saturday's is at 6:05 p.m..

"He's a skilled forward that can score goals. He's got a couple for us already," UMD senior wing Karson Kuhlman said. "Beyond that he brings a lot of experience and leadership. He's one of the older guys in that room even though this is only his first year playing for us. A lot of guys look up to him and he does a good job day in and day out."

Krieger, a 23-year-old native of Oakdale, Minn., said he used his off year in to learn from UMD veterans Dominic Toninato, Willie Raskob, Carson Soucy, Alex Iafallo and Kyle Osterberg, whom he lived and matured with. Krieger's teammates said he was a positive influence in the locker room and lent a helping hand to equipment manager Chris Garner.

Krieger didn't practice during the second half of last season because he underwent shoulder surgery in between semesters. After playing two seasons of juniors and two seasons in Fairbanks with an injured shoulder, he decided it was time to get healthy for the first time since winning a pair of Minnesota Class A state championships at St. Thomas Academy.

As tough as it was not to be on the ice practicing with his teammates, Krieger said the sacrifice was well worth it to be fully ready for this season when he was eligible to play.

"It's unbelievable the difference it's made in my game," Krieger, 23, said of the surgery. "Just the confidence going into the corner knowing I'm not going to have any issues. Just being able to play with that confidence — it's more of a mental thing than anything — has been big for me."

Kuhlman said Krieger is an elite playmaker who sees the ice well. Sophomore wing Riley Tufte had similar praise, calling Krieger a "handsy" guy who carries a lot of speed, gets to the puck first and knows where to be every time.

Krieger showed his potential as a scorer and playmaker in high school and juniors playing the center position, posting 49 points (including 16 goals) in 30 games as a senior at St. Thomas in 2011-12; 54 points (22 goals) in 59 games with the Aberdeen Wings of the North American Hockey League in 2012-13; and 78 points (28 goals) in 72 games in 2013-14 with the Waterloo Blackhawks of the United States Hockey League.

At Fairbanks, Krieger mostly was used as a wing. He mustered just 33 points (nine goals) in 69 games over two seasons with the Nanooks. The four goals and 16 assists Krieger posted as a sophomore were good enough for third on the team in scoring that season. He was set to be the team's top returning scorer in 2016-17, but asked for his release in order to find a program that better suited his style of play.

Krieger feels like he's found that in Duluth, where he's totaled three goals and five assists as the top-line center following the departure of Toninato and Adam Johnson. It's helped to be back playing his natural position of center, Krieger said.

"I like to think I can play wherever, but I would say I'm definitely more comfortable at center being able to flow through the defensive zone and pick up pucks from the defensemen," Krieger said. "It allows me to be a little more creative with my speed and the puck. I feel more comfortable at the middle position."

That creativity has, at times, gotten the junior center in trouble this season.

After not playing all last season, Krieger is back in game shape. He's adjusted to the speed and skill level of the NCHC, as well as its physical style of play.

But Krieger agrees with his coach, Scott Sandelin. His decision-making isn't quite where it needs to be yet, though last weekend he took a step by simplifying things in the home split against Western Michigan.

"Peter has a real good skill level. He sees the ice well, but he's just got to get away from making some of the fancy, hard plays. Keep the play simple," Sandelin said. "For him, it's like a lot of players. They all want to make the hardest play. They make the high-risk plays. He probably has the skill and ability to make those some of the time, but not all the time.

"He's got good hands and quick hands and those things, but sometimes they can get you in trouble by trying to get too fancy or going from your forehand to your backhand to make a pass."

NO. 14 UMD (5-5-2, 1-3) AT MIAMI (4-5-1, 1-2-1)

What: NCHC series

When: 6:35 p.m. Friday/6:05 p.m. Saturday

Where: Goggin Ice Arena, Oxford, Ohio

TV: None

Radio: KDAL-AM 610/KDAL-FM 103.9

Internet: (audio); (video)


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.

(218) 723-5317