Minnesota Duluth junior wing Riley Tufte is heading to the NHL, but his coach with the Bulldogs says he is staying put.
“I’m not looking for any opportunity,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said Wednesday during his final news conference of the season at Amsoil Arena.
A three-time national championship coach with the Bulldogs following Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Massachusetts at the Frozen Four in Buffalo, N.Y., Sandelin has been peppered by the media about making the jump to the NHL.
A native of Hibbing, Sandelin, 54, was asked Friday prior to the national championship. It was brought up again Tuesday during an interview on NHL Network after he was introduced as Team USA’s head coach for the 2020 World Junior Championship.
He was asked again Wednesday by the News Tribune, and this time had a more firm response.
“If somebody calls me, I'll listen,” Sandelin said. “Right now my plan is to be back at Duluth, and be at Duluth for a long time, hopefully.”
A year ago, two NCAA coaches were hired as NHL head coaches.
Jim Montgomery left Denver for the Dallas Stars and Boston University’s David Quinn took over the New York Rangers. Dave Hakstol was hired away from North Dakota by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2015, but fired in December after only three-plus seasons.
For now, it appears Sandelin - one of nine coaches to ever win three or more NCAA titles - doesn’t have an interest in joining that group. He’s focused on what he’s dubbed “the third season” with the first being the regular season and second being the playoffs.
There’s no such thing as an offseason for Sandelin, who admitted to diving into preparations for 2019-20 on Monday.
“Our season never ends, right?” Sandelin said. “At the end of the year there are always opportunities for guys to move on early. We’ve gone through that for many years, that’s not any different, so you’re trying to sort that out. You’re also trying to make sure you’ve got the players coming in ready to go. If we need to go and add more, we’ll do that based on what happens in the next couple weeks.”
Tufte signs with Stars
Tufte became the first Bulldog this year to make the jump to the NHL on Wednesday. After playing in three straight NCAA championship games and winning the last two, Tufte is forgoing his senior season after signing a three-year, entry-level contract with the Dallas Stars.
The 21-year-old from Ham Lake, Minn., was drafted in the first round, No. 25 overall, by the Stars in 2016 after the Blaine High School senior was named Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey. He came to UMD after playing a few select games in 2015-16 with the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League.
“It's awesome for him,” Sandelin said of Tufte signing. “Being a first-round pick, for us to get three years out of him was great. To be a part of two championships and three Frozen Fours, he obviously had three pretty good years.
“He's matured a lot as a player. I think he's ready for the next step. I'm excited for him and his family to get that opportunity. Hopefully it's another one we’ll be watching here shortly playing some NHL games.”
Tufte played in 121 career games over the past three seasons at UMD, totaling 34 goals and 30 assists. A year ago he led the Bulldogs in goals with 16 and was third in points with 29, but finished with nine goals and 10 assists this season.
In addition to winning two NCAA titles, Tufte helped the program win a pair of NCHC Frozen Faceoff titles.
“It’s going to be awesome when I’m 50 years old, sitting in bed one day and looking back on these memories,” Tufte said Saturday after winning a second NCAA title. “It’s unbelievable.”
Other Bulldogs mull futures
Tufte was the first, but he may not be the last Bulldog to sign an NHL deal during the “third season.”
Mikey Anderson said Wednesday he’s still deciding whether to return for his junior season. Another sophomore defenseman, Scott Perunovich of Hibbing, said Tuesday he was still weighing his options after the team’s national championship celebration.
Anderson, 19, is a 2017 fourth-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings while Perunovich, 20, is a 2018 second-round pick of the St. Louis Blues.
In addition to Perunovich and Anderson, fellow sophomore defenseman Dylan Samberg has a decision to make after winning back-to-back Minnesota Class A state titles with Hermantown in 2016 and 2017 and back-to-back NCAA Division I titles at UMD in 2018 and 2019. The 20-year-old is a 2017 second-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets.
Other Bulldogs who could potentially forgo NCAA eligibility to sign NHL deals include junior defenseman Nick Wolff, sophomore center Justin Richards and junior goaltender Hunter Shepard, just to name a few. All three are undrafted free agents who could sign with any NHL team they want.
Sandelin said he doesn’t set a timeline for his players to decide whether they are coming back or turning pro.
“The sooner that we know the better, but that’s not how it works,” Sandelin said. “They are major decisions for players and certainly if they are in that situation, they’ll take as much time as they need.”