The Minnesota Duluth men’s and women’s hockey programs should be welcoming prospective student-athletes to town this month for tours of Amsoil Arena, the university and community.
With the sun high in the sky and a warm breeze coming off Lake Superior, there is no better time of the year to show off a hilltop campus that overlooks Lake Superior and a hockey facility in the heart of Canal Park.
Like everything else in life these days, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the United States has put official recruiting visits — that were permitted to begin for rising high school juniors on Aug. 1 — on hold with the NCAA’s ban on in-person recruiting through Aug. 31.
That’s forced the Bulldogs coaches Scott Sandelin and Maura Crowell to find new ways to showcase their program, and what makes it unique in NCAA Division I men’s and women’s hockey.
“We can’t do the in-person stuff, so what can you do?” said Crowell, who is entering her sixth season in 2020-21 with the UMD women’s program. “There's quite a bit that you still can do if you're open to taking advantage of everything that technology can provide us.
“It's been really fun actually. It's been a new challenge, which I think after you do this for a while, that's a healthy thing to have to endure.”
Coaches can still make virtual contact with recruits via email, phone calls, text messages and video conferences. The Bulldogs women’s program has also been using social media to showcase the campus, community and facilities (as well as hold best pet contests).
Video conferences via Zoom have become a major part of the recruiting process for Crowell and her staff. In fact, it’s how all of their recruiting calls now take place.
“A Zoom call isn't like being in person, but it's a great way to take a normal phone call and multiply it by quite a bit to get to know people, to get to see their faces,” Crowell said. “You get to see their houses. They get to see you. It takes a normal recruiting phone call to a whole new level.”
Crowell said her program’s Zoom calls involve at least two of the three coaches, with all three coaches often being on the call together with a recruit and her family. Every call has agenda and a plan laid out for each recruit.
That’s a stark contrast from the past when a coach would watch a player at a game or camp, then dial up a recruit to talk about their play.
“We're very structured in what we want to accomplish each time we get on the phone,” said Crowell, who added that the pandemic has given her staff a lot more free time to plan out recruiting calls this summer. “Frankly, that's made us better recruiters having to be so organized.”
Crowell said Zoom calls will be a regular part of her recruiting strategy in the future, even after the pandemic. Sandelin, who is entering his 21st season with the UMD men’s program in 2020-21, said the same.
As great as Zoom has been during the pandemic, however, Sandelin said it still cannot replace an in-person visit to the campus, community and Amsoil Arena.
“We’re in the world of Zoom. It’s good because you can kind of get face-to-face. You can have parents on and that stuff,” Sandelin said. “It’s still not the same as being here and getting a feel for what your culture is, your community is, meeting the players — talking to them, spending time with them. I think that’s a huge part of the process. It’s no different than spending time with the coaching staff.
“I really enjoy when kids come on official visits and spend time with our players and get to talk, ask questions and really get a feel.”
UMD women land three commitments
In addition to permitting official visits on Aug. 1 for rising high school juniors, that was also the first day NCAA Division I men’s programs could begin offering scholarships and accepting verbal commitments.
NCAA Division I women’s programs have been permitted to make offers and accept commitments since June 16 and Crowell has landed three out of British Columbia for her freshman class of 2022 since then in Delta Hockey Academy defenseman Tova Henderson, Okanagan Hockey Academy forward Kayla Kutes and Greater Vancouver Comets goaltender Mailey Mcleod.
Bulldogs to report Aug. 24
Members of the UMD men’s and women’s hockey programs are set to return to campus one week before classes are scheduled to begin on Aug. 31.
Neither Crowell nor Sandelin indicated they are having any troubles getting international students from back into the United States during the pandemic. The lone European between the two programs — women’s junior goaltender Emma Soderberg of Sweden — just recently was approved to return to the United States.