ST. PAUL - Similarly to his Bulldogs teammate Hunter Shepard, Minnesota Duluth forward Nick Swaney found it hard during this week’s Minnesota Wild prospect development camp at Xcel Energy Center to not recall the 2018 NCAA Frozen Four.
Just three months removed from the national championship victory over Notre Dame on this very ice, the memories again flooded his brain as soon as he stepped inside the arena.
“Coming back here, you relive all those moments. It puts you back in that mindset,” Swaney said Thursday after a scrimmage at Xcel. “It’s been a lot of fun. We were kind of joking around stepping back on the ice for the first time. The memories come back. Just being back in the building with him has been special. It’s been fun to be here with him at the development camp, too.”
This is Swaney’s second NHL development camp with the Wild after being taken in the seventh round of the 2017 draft. The Burnsville, Minn., native said this time around his nerves are a lot more calm, he’s more confident and aware of what’s in store during the week-long camp that wraps up Sunday with a second scrimmage at 5 p.m. at Xcel Energy Center.
That confidence was on display during Thursday’s prospect scrimmage, where Swaney was able to produce a number of scoring chances before finally burying a shot in a shootout against Minnesota Gophers goaltender Matt Robson.
Swaney’s confidence came from being at camp last year and from a successful freshman year at UMD where he totaled six goals and 16 assists.
“Just playing a year of college and having the awesome year that we did and the success we had, I’m just growing as a player overall,” Swaney said. “Both of those experiences helped me, for sure.”
Swaney said what he wants to take out of this year’s camp into his sophomore year at UMD are the little things that he and his fellow prospects - including incoming UMD freshman forward Jackson Cates of Stillwater, Minn. - have worked on this week with the Wild, such as skating and shooting techniques.
Cates and Shepard are free-agent invitees to the camp. Cates said he and his younger brother, Noah - a Philadelphia Flyers draft pick and incoming UMD freshman - used to attend Wild prospect scrimmages as kids.
Jackson Cates said it’s much different being on the ice taking part, and that this week has taught him what it means to work like a pro.
“Seeing the speed, I know I need to get faster and stronger,” he said. “There are so many aspects of the game I can get better on. I just need to get better every day and work hard.”