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Shepard sharp again off a break, makes 19 saves in Bulldogs 3-0 win over Colorado College

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Clint Austin / Minnesota Duluth goaltender Hunter Shepard (32) blocks a shot on goal from Colorado College during Friday's game at Amsoil Arena. 2 / 2

Top-ranked Minnesota Duluth opened NCHC play with a 3-0 win over Colorado College before a crowd of 5,499 on Friday at Amsoil Arena.

Junior goaltender Hunter Shepard made 19 saves for his first shutout of the season and ninth of his career, tying him with current Minnesota Wild goaltender Alex Stalock for most career shutouts by a UMD goalie.

The Bulldogs scored a goal a period — sophomore center Justin Richards in the first, junior defenseman Nick Wolff in the second and senior wing Parker Mackay on the power play in the third.

A full recap of Friday's win can be found here.

News Tribune college hockey writer Matt Wellens once again is struggling to find a thumbs down from the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs so more thumbs up, plus his three stars of the night.

Thumbs up to the "always lights out" Hunter Shepard

Anyone ever notice that Bulldogs junior goaltender Hunter Shepard is never rusty? Like ever?

Seriously, the Cohasset native is always, in the words of junior defenseman Nick Wolff, "lights out."

This fact jumped out at me Friday night at Amsoil Arena. While the rest of the Bulldogs shook off the rust following a bye last week, Shepard was as sharp as ever against a vastly improved Colorado College squad. He turned away shot after shot after shot until his teammates got back into a rhythm defensively to shut down the opposition.

"I'm happy for him," Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said of Shepard getting the shutout and tying Stalock. "He made the saves he had to make."

If you look at Shepard's performance Friday in a vacuum, it's nothing special. It's just another night for that always-consistent Shepard.

But when you combine it with other moments in his hockey career recently, specifically the 2017 Ledyard Bank Classic at Dartmouth (29-save shutout of Yale and 41-save shootout win over Dartmouth) and the NHL development camps he attended over the summer (by all accounts he stole the show in Buffalo and Minnesota by being more prepared and in better shape than every other prospect), a pattern begins to emerge.

Shepard is always ready to go, always at the top of his game, whether he played the night before, whether he played a few weeks ago, or whether he took the last month or so off.

Shepard said his routine — during the week and on gameday — is key to staying sharp. He sticks with it whether there is a game coming up or not.

"I got a routine. As long as you do the same thing before every game, I think I've been doing the same thing before every game since seventh or eighth grade," Shepard said. "When you have confidence that your preparation and routines work for you, that's probably the biggest thing for the mental side of things. Also, you're fresh. You don't have the game-situation stuff as much, but it's all the same routine throughout the week. You take the shots on the same days, work with (goalie coach) Brant (Nicklin) on the same days."

As married as Shepard is to his routine, he admitted that he does sometimes need to get away from the game. That was the case last year during the holidays, and last weekend after a month of nonconference play.

"It just depends on what you need and how you feel," Shepard said. "Last year over Christmas I just felt like I needed a little break from serious hockey. I went home and only skated once or twice on the outdoor rink. Mentally and physically that gave me a big boost going into the second half. This last weekend I went home and duck and deer hunted on Saturday and Sunday. I came back this week and felt really good. Mentally and physically just getting away from the rink sometimes, you get back and feel good and you want to be here — you always want to be here — but it's good to get away and reset I guess."

Thumbs up to the power play

Over the years, I've noticed that Scott Sandelin sometimes gets more frustrated with his power play units' lack of opportunity than lack of goals.

That's because Sandelin is a big believer in rhythm for a power play unit. Get in a rhythm, get some goals. That's often the key for his power play groups.

Coming off the bye Friday, you'd think the Bulldogs power play groupings would need some early chances to shake off the rust.

They didn't.

Despite what looked like some potential Colorado College penalties throughout the night, UMD didn't get a chance to go on the power play until the 6:34 mark of the third period when Tigers senior center Mason Bergh was called for tripping.

The Bulldogs wound up scoring 61 seconds into Bergh's penalty, working the puck perfectly to set up senior wing and captain Parker Mackay for a clean shot down the middle through traffic. That was the dagger Saturday.

It was UMD's only real power play chance the entire night — Bergh took a charging call with 19 seconds left — and Sandelin was plenty pleased with what his team was able to accomplish on that one advantage.

"That was a big goal for us and anytime you can score on the power play, I'll take one a game anytime," Sandelin said. "It was a good shot. We had good traffic. We scored a couple goals with traffic and that's what you need against good goaltenders."

Matt's Three Stars

3. Bulldogs sophomore center Justin Richards/Bulldogs junior defenseman Nick Wolff: I'm making the Bulldogs' first two goal scorers Friday share the third star. It was the second goal of the season for both Friday, and they gave the Bulldogs that important two-goal cushion that is so hard for teams to get over.

2. Bulldogs senior wing Parker Mackay: The captain is having himself a career season. He now has five goals in nine games on the year.

1. Bulldogs junior goaltender Hunter Shepard: First shutout of the season and ninth of his career. Any day now he'll be passing Alex Stalock as the Bulldogs career leader in shutouts.

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