With Grand Rapids native Zach Stejskal possibly heading back to juniors for one more season, Minnesota Duluth made a move this week to bolster its backup goaltending position, once again dipping into the North American Hockey League franchise just down the interstate in Cloquet.

Minnesota Wilderness goaltender Ryan Fanti verbally committed to the Bulldogs on Tuesday morning. He’s the latest Wilderness alumnus to join the Bulldogs, who already have forwards Cole Koepke, Koby Bender and Kobe Roth and defenseman Louie Roehl on the roster for next season.

The 19-year-old Fanti, who turns 20 in October, is a native of Thunder Bay, Ontario. He’s spent the last two seasons with the Wilderness, where he posted a .917 save percentage and 2.70 goals-against average in 39 games in 2018-19, and a .922 save percentage and 2.60 GAA the year before in the regular season.

Fanti will come to campus either this fall to help backup senior goaltender Hunter Shepard, or in the fall of 2020 to compete with Stejskal for the starting job. It all depends on the status of Stejskal, a 2017 graduate of Grand Rapids who turns 20 in December.

Stejskal played last season in the NAHL with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights, where he finished with a .935 save percentage and 2.47 GAA in 48 regular-season games. The former Thunderhawks goalie signed a national letter of intent in the fall to play for UMD in 2019-20, but is facing academic issues that could prevent him from making the jump to college this summer.. Those are still being worked through, Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said Tuesday.

If Stejskal returns to juniors, he would play next season for the Youngstown Phantoms, who took him 10th overall in the recent United States Hockey League entry draft. He’d likely see more playing time there - the same for Fanti with the Wilderness - than with the Bulldogs, who return Shepard, a former Thunderhawk like Stejskal.

Shepard, the Cohasset native and now two-time national champion, has started 83 of UMD’s 86 games the last two years, including a school-record 81 straight. He’s put together a 1.84 GAA and .924 save percentage during his Bulldogs career, including a school-record 15 shutouts.

In addition to Shepard, the Bulldogs return third-year goaltender Benjamin Patt, who will battle either Stejskal or Fanti for the No. 2 spot in the fall. Patt has been UMD’s third-stringer the last two seasons behind Shepard and the now-graduated Nick Deery, though Patt missed all of last season with a shoulder injury.

Perunovich, Richards returning

Sandelin said UMD’s last two early departure question marks - sophomore defenseman Scott Perunovich and sophomore center Justin Richards - are both planning to come back for their junior seasons next fall, so barring any late changes of heart, the Bulldogs are on track to return four of their five centers from last year and five of their six regular defensemen from the last two seasons.

Perunovich is a 2018 second-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues. Richards is an undrafted free agent who reportedly drew interest from at least a few NHL teams this spring.

In the month after beating Massachusetts for the NCAA title in Buffalo, N.Y., UMD lost two players early to the NHL. Sophomore defenseman Mikey Anderson signed with the Los Angeles Kings and junior wing Riley Tufte signed with the Dallas Stars. Both were draft picks with the Stars taking Tufte in the first round in 2016.

So is the 2019-20 roster set?

Not quite, the coach said last week.

For one, it’s not uncommon for an underclassman or two to indicate they are returning to college, only to receive an offer they can’t refuse over the summer, often while attending an NHL team development camp.

That happened with Hibbing native Adam Johnson, who planned on returning for his junior season in 2017-18, until the Pittsburgh Penguins convinced the undrafted free agent to sign after attending their development camp.

The three-time national championship coach said he’s prepared for that, just in case.

Whatever happens during what Sandelin now calls the “third season,” he said UMD would like to bring in one more forward to give the Bulldogs 15 forwards, eight defensemen and three goaltenders next season.

UMD already has three forwards signed to letters of intent in Devlin McCabe of the Sioux City Musketeers (USHL), Quinn Olson of the Okotoks Oilers (Alberta Junior Hockey League) and Penticton Vees (British Columbia Hockey League) wing Luke Loheit, who is a 2018 Ottawa Senators draft pick. Springfield Junior Blues (NAHL) winger Brandon Puricelli, who has turned 21, is also committed to UMD for next year.

UMD has found some diamonds in the rough late in the recruiting game the last few years. Outgoing senior wing Billy Exell came to UMD from the Wilderness in June 2015 while Hermantown native Jesse Jacques, a freshman center last year, signed with UMD in August after incoming freshman center Charlie Dovorany had to retire due to injuries.