While Minnesota Duluth's blue line remains in flux for next season, the goal line of the defending back-to-back national champions is as solid as ever going into 2019-20.
Goaltender Hunter Shepard is coming back to the Bulldogs for his senior season. The Cohasset native announced his intentions in a short clip that Kelly Hinseth shared on Twitter on Wednesday from her and Zach Schneider's upcoming UMD championship special that will air at 7 p.m. Thursday on KBJR-TV.
An undrafted free agent who attended both the Minnesota Wild and Buffalo Sabres development camps last summer after winning his first NCAA title, Shepard confirmed to the News Tribune on Wednesday he won't be turning pro after winning a second.
His 8-0 mark in the NCAA tournament over the last two seasons makes the Bulldogs a strong contender to win a third-consecutive national championship. Michigan is the only school to ever three-peat in the NCAA, doing so during the tournament's first six seasons from 1951-53.
Shepard, who was a finalist this year for the Mike Richter Award as national goaltender of the year, owns a 0.97 goals against average and .954 save percentage in his eight NCAA tournament starts. He has a career 1.84 GAA and .924 save percentage at UMD with 54 wins and a school-record 15 shutouts. He's started a school-record 81-straight games at UMD.
The Bulldogs' goal line could have been thrown into chaos had Shepard signed an NHL deal this spring. UMD has another former Grand Rapids Thunderhawk goalie signed for 2019-20 in Zach Stejskal, but coach Scott Sandelin said during his end-of-the year press conference that Stejskal has some academic issues that may prevent him from coming to UMD in the fall.
The Bulldogs graduate one goaltender from the 2018-19 squad in Nick Deery. Freshman Ben Patt is returning from season-ending shoulder surgery.
UMD has lost two players early to the NHL this spring in junior wing Riley Tufte and sophomore defenseman Mikey Anderson.
Two more sophomore defensemen, Dylan Samberg and Scott Perunovich, have not publicly announced their intentions for 2019-20. Both are second-round draft picks - Samberg by Winnipeg in 2017 and Perunovich by St. Louis in 2018.