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College men's hockey: UMD's Herter is next branch on Sandelin coaching tree

Minnesota Duluth associate head coach Jason Herter, left, and head coach Scott Sandelin, right, watch practice during last year's NCAA Frozen Four at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Herter will serve as head coach of the Bulldogs this weekend at the Desert Hockey Classic in Glendale, Ariz. while Sandelin serves as an assistant for Team USA at the World Junior Championship. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com1 / 2
News Tribune file photo Minnesota Duluth associate head coach Jason Herter watches practice during the 2018 NCAA Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Herter will serve as head coach of the Bulldogs this weekend at the Desert Hockey Classic in Glendale, Ariz. 2 / 2

When Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin was asked in April at his end-of-the-season news conference about early departures to the NHL, he didn't have much of an answer.

Sandelin had yet to speak with his players about their post-national championship plans and besides, who was and wasn't turning pro was the least of his worries.

What was vexing Sandelin in April was whether or not he'd have to replace his entire coaching staff after back-to-back NCAA championship game appearances and an NCAA title.

Sandelin ended up losing just one of his two assistants as Duluth native Brett Larson was named the head coach at St. Cloud State. Meanwhile, Jason Herter stuck around for his eighth season and was rewarded with a promotion to associate head coach.

Now he'll lead the Bulldogs this weekend as the head honcho at the Desert Hockey Classic in Glendale, Ariz. The fourth-ranked Bulldogs open the tournament at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Gila River Arena against third-ranked Minnesota State-Mankato, which is also being led by its associate head coach, Todd Knott.

Sandelin and Mavericks head coach Mike Hastings are both at the 2019 World Junior Championship in British Columbia. Sandelin is an assistant coach for Team USA under Hastings.

While the promotion from assistant to associate head coach came with no new responsibilities or more say in matters for Herter, the native of Hafford, Saskatchewan, was grateful for the new title. He's the first in Sandelin's 19 seasons as head coach at UMD to earn the distinction.

"We still go about our everyday business every week just like we have my last eight years," Herter said. "But the fact that he did that for me says a lot knowing he hasn't done it before."

Like his former coach, colleague and still good friend Dean Blais, Sandelin himself has begun to sprout his own coaching tree with branches that are having early success in their head coaching careers.

Steve Rohlik, an assistant under Sandelin at UMD from 2000-10, is in his ninth season at Ohio State. In his six seasons as head coach, the Buckeyes have a 102-77-26 record. They're ranked seventh at 9-4-3 after reaching the NCAA tournament in each of the previous two seasons, losing both times to Sandelin and the Bulldogs (2017 West Regional semifinal and 2018 Frozen Four semifinal).

Larson — an assistant under Sandelin from 2008-11 and 2015-18 — and the Huskies are off to a 13-1-2 start this season, putting them first in the NCHC and No. 1 in both national polls.

Herter, 48, seems primed to join Larson and Rohlik as an NCAA Division I head coach in the very near future. In his seven-plus seasons on staff, the Bulldogs have compiled a 158-104-35 mark that includes an NCHC Frozen Faceoff title (2017), five NCAA tournament appearances (2012, 2015-18), two Frozen Fours (2017-18) and last year's national championship.

Herter — who came to UMD after serving as head coach of the United States Hockey League's Fargo Force — doesn't seem to be in any rush, however, to leave Northeastern Minnesota.

He's taking his career year-by-year, he said.

"There are always opportunities for guys that are always looking for them," said Herter, the Hermantown resident whose daughter, Jordyn, lives in the area; his son, Jacob, plays for the Minnesota Wilderness in Cloquet; and his wife, Laura, has a great job in the area. "I'm a believer — and I've learned this from Coach Sandelin — you just do your job, you do it well and people will call you. I did get a couple calls, but the bottom line is my family is really happy here.

"I get to have my fires in my backyard on Sundays. I get to hunt deer. I get to be who I am away from the rink in Duluth like I grew up. I'm not in any hurry to see that go away."

Those who have played for Herter at UMD the past few years have nothing but praise for their assistant-turned-associate head coach.

Herter is described as meticulous when it comes to film study. He runs the Bulldogs' special teams and always has the team prepared for whatever the opposition is going to throw at them, players say.

Herter is the reason, players say, that UMD enters the Desert Hockey Classic with the top penalty kill mark in the nation at 91.9 percent, 14th-best power play at 21.7 percent and second-best combined special teams rating of 57.4 percent.

"He's a really good coach, he's really into those Xs and Os and the power play, penalty kill," UMD junior defenseman Nick Wolff said. "The amount of film he goes over is unbelievable. The film he goes over and doesn't show us is unbelievable. He can disect a power play and penalty kill and he does it really well. Bringing that into a head-coaching role will be tough for him, but he's got the skills and capabilities to do it."

At that final news conference in April, just days after winning a second NCAA title, Sandelin said he hoped both Herter and Larson would stick around UMD so they could keep doing what they've been doing.

Alas, he only got half his wish — not that Sandelin doesn't want to see his assistants move on.

He's all for seeing them be rewarded, because they're good coaches and good people.

"You want that for them," Sandelin said. "That's what they're in the business for."

2018 DESERT HOLIDAY CLASSIC

At Gila River Arena, Glendale, Ariz.

Friday's Games

• Minnesota Duluth vs. Minnesota State-Mankato, 5:30 p.m. (KDAL-AM 610/KDAL-FM 103.9)

• Clarkson vs. Arizona State, 8:30 p.m.

Saturday's Games

• Minnesota Duluth/Minnesota State-Mankato vs. Clarkson, 5:30 p.m.

• Minnesota Duluth/Minnesota State-Mankato vs. Arizona State, 8:30 p.m.

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