Three seasons ago, Minnesota Duluth sophomore wing Tanner Laderoute gambled on himself.
The Edmonton, Alberta, native was 20 years old and had been verbally committed to Alaska-Anchorage since he was 18. It was time to leave junior hockey behind and join the Seawolves, but Laderoute said he was having regrets about jumping on the first NCAA scholarship offer he received.
So Laderoute decommitted, re-opened his recruitment and decided to play his age-out season in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with his hockey future in doubt.
“I wanted to bet on myself,” Laderoute said this week on the News Tribune’s Bulldog Insider Podcast. “I wanted to bet on myself and it turned out pretty well.”
Pretty well might be an understatement for Laderoute, even in just his second season with the Bulldogs. He’s already got one NCAA championship ring with UMD and is a big reason the program is in contention for a third-straight national championship this season.
Laderoute has proven to be a versatile winger that can play up and down the lineup with anyone, anywhere. He’s also a timely offensive threat with seven goals and eight assists going into the Bulldogs’ final regular season road series — a pair of NCHC games against Colorado College at 8:30 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday at Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“Tanner is a power forward who is not afraid to go to tough areas,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “He does what he needs to do to be successful. That’s what makes him valuable and why he can play on different lines. He’s not worried about who he is playing with. He worries about his own game and that’s what makes him effective.”
Coming from Western Canada, where familiarity with the Western Hockey League — major junior — towers over the NCAA, Laderoute admitted he wasn’t very diligent or patient the first time he was being recruited by college programs.
Laderoute said he picked the Bulldogs the second time around after doing a lot more research. He liked that they played in a league like the NCHC that was moving players on to the NHL. It was tough to ignore the fact that UMD had played in the two previous NCAA title games, winning in St. Paul in 2018.
But Laderoute did encounter some initial trepidation about the Bulldogs after committing. The biggest came when he got a text message from the UMD coach most involved in his recruitment, Brett Larson, who was leaving to become head coach at St. Cloud State.
“‘Oh, great. The coach that likes me is leaving. Is that gonna leave me just getting buried?’” Laderoute said of his thoughts when receiving the text. “UMD is nothing like that. They still like me, I think, I hope.”
Turns out Laderoute had nothing to be afraid of, even after being a healthy scratch for the first game of 2018-19. Laderoute made his UMD debut the following night at Minnesota, where his tenacity and physicality jumped off the ice. The following weekend at Michigan Tech, he netted his first two collegiate goals. He finished his freshman season with seven goals and five assists.
As scary as it was to return to juniors as a 20-year-old without an NCAA commitment — playing college in Canada was the backup plan — Laderoute said returning for a fourth season of juniors and second full season with the Okotoks Oilers “really cemented myself and a hockey player and as a person.”
Oilers coach Tyler Deis, the now two-time AJHL Coach of the Year who played at Minnesota State-Mankato, helped turn his hockey career around, said Laderoute, who had 15 goals and 40 assists in 124 games during his first two AJHL seasons with Sherwood Park and Okotoks.
After Deis took over the Oilers, Laderoute became a much bigger offensive threat with 31 goals and 37 assists in 72 games in 2016-17, and 42 goals and 48 assists in 67 games in 2017-18, his age-out season of juniors.
“He just saw something in me,” Laderoute said. “I got my opportunity and I ran with it. His belief in me — he saw what I saw in myself — allowed me to flourish as a hockey player.
“I felt that pushed me to be the best player I could be coming to college.”
Laderoute said it was Deis who initially asked the question after the 2016-17 season — when Laderoute had to decide whether he was going to Anchorage or staying in Okotoks — “Do you want to bet on yourself? Or do you want to be safe?”
UMD is sure glad Laderoute rolled the dice, especially now with the lineup in a bit of flux after top-line center Jackson Cates suffered an upper body injury last week at Western Michigan when he landed awkwardly on his shoulder following a hit. Cates is going to be “out for a while,” Sandelin said this week.
In the shuffling of the deck to fill that hole, Laderoute went from playing alongside the grittier duo of junior wing Kobe Roth and senior center Jade Miller — who he’d scored four of his seven goals with — to the speedier pair of sophomore wing Cole Koepke and junior center Justin Richards.
Laderoute was on a line with Koepke and Richards earlier this season — it's who his other three goals have come with — and all three have been on the power play together.
As solid as freshman wing Quinn Olson — now alongside sophomore center Noah Cates and junior wing Nick Swaney — was on their line, Koepke said he and Richards are happy to have Laderoute in their corner, literally.
“He’s fast, so he’s able to keep up with us just fine, which is huge,” Koepke said. “Ritchie and I like to play quick. He fits right into that role with us. He’s good on the forecheck. He’s always around the net. He’s always in the corner. Any little scrum or situation, he’s right in the center of that. It brings a little more grit to our line.”