Minnesota Duluth junior forward and captain Noah Cates has been a member of the Philadelphia Flyers organization since summer 2017 when he was drafted in the fifth round, No. 137 overall that year.

Last week his older brother, Bulldogs junior center Jackson Cates, officially became a member of the NHL franchise as well by signing a two-year entry-level contract as an undrafted free agent.

It will be at least a year until the Cates brothers of Stillwater, Minnesota, find themselves as teammates in the NHL, however, because Noah Cates is returning to the Bulldogs for his senior season in 2021-22 in hopes of captaining the Bulldogs to a fifth-consecutive NCAA Frozen Four and third national championship in five seasons.

Separated by just under 17 months, Noah and Jackson have played the last three seasons together at UMD. They helped lead the Bulldogs to the Frozen Four in 2019 and 2021 — COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 tournament — winning the national championship in Buffalo, New York, in 2019 and losing to eventual national champion Massachusetts this spring in the national semifinals in Pittsburgh.

Minnesota Duluth's Noah Cates (21), Ben Patt (36), Tanner Laderoute (13) and Jackson Cates (20) celebrate after defeating Massachusetts 3-0 the 2019 NCAA Championship at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York. Clint Austin / File / The Rink Live
Minnesota Duluth's Noah Cates (21), Ben Patt (36), Tanner Laderoute (13) and Jackson Cates (20) celebrate after defeating Massachusetts 3-0 the 2019 NCAA Championship at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York. Clint Austin / File / The Rink Live

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Noah Cates said his decision of whether to come back to UMD or turn pro was only made tougher by Jackson’s decision to sign. In the end, Noah said returning to college for another year will be in his best interest moving forward, just as Jackson’s decision to turn pro was in his best interest.

“It’s a really good spot for him and I’m just excited to watch him this next month and next season,” said Noah, who added he’s looking forward to learning from his older brother in the future what it is like to be a player in the Flyers organization. “I’m excited to see how it goes for him and kind of see what that level is and see what he says about it.”

In addition to confirming Noah Cates’ return, UMD coach Scott Sandelin said Tuesday that four seniors will be returning for a fifth season as well.

Two-time national champion wingers Koby Bender and Kobe Roth and defensemen Matt Anderson and Louie Roehl are all taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA to them and all student-athletes because of the COVID-19 pandemic. All four are two-time national champions dating back to the memorable 2017-18 title run that culminated at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Sporting No. 17 patches in honor of former Bulldog Mark Pavelich, Minnesota Duluth forward Koby Bender celebrates his power play goal with fellow Bulldogs Matt Anderson (3) and Tanner Laderoute (13) in the second period of an NCHC Frozen Faceoff quarterfinal game on March 13, 2021, at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Gran Forks, North Dakota. Nick Nelson / File/ Grand Forks Herald
Sporting No. 17 patches in honor of former Bulldog Mark Pavelich, Minnesota Duluth forward Koby Bender celebrates his power play goal with fellow Bulldogs Matt Anderson (3) and Tanner Laderoute (13) in the second period of an NCHC Frozen Faceoff quarterfinal game on March 13, 2021, at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Gran Forks, North Dakota. Nick Nelson / File/ Grand Forks HeraldNick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

The Bulldogs lost three players, all forwards, to the NHL last week. In addition to Jackson Cates, junior wing Cole Koepke signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning and senior wing Nick Swaney signed with the Minnesota Wild on Sunday.

Senior graduate transfer Matt Cairns, a 2016 third-round draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers who came to UMD in 2020-21 after playing three seasons at Cornell, will not be returning to the Bulldogs in 2021-22, Sandelin said.

Swaney (28 points), Jackson Cates (27) and Koepke (23) made up three of the Bulldogs top-four point producers in 2020-21, however, Roth will bring back 13 goals and 10 assists, and his linemate, Bender, is coming off a career-best seven goals and 13 assists.

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“All of us have been a tight-knit group for the past four years,” said Bender, who along with Roth is planning to pursue a masters in education with his fifth year. “When the coaches talked to us about coming back and gave us that opportunity, we all as a group wanted to stick together and come back for another year, try to do what we did those first three years and win a championship.”

Noah Cates will also bring a scoring punch back to the UMD lineup with 28 career goals and 47 career assists as a Bulldog. He is set to become the first two-time captain at UMD since current assistant coach Adam Krause in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

A wing for the majority of his first two seasons at UMD and what he projects to be when he does someday turn pro, Noah Cates stepped in as a center late in the 2019-20 season when Jackson Cates suffered a shoulder injury. Noah Cates remained a centerman in 2020-21 to give the Bulldogs more depth up the middle after Justin Richards signed with the New York Rangers.

A three-time All-NCHC honoree, Noah Cates finished with five goals and 14 assists in 28 games this year playing center after posting 14 goals and 19 assists in 34 games as a wing during his second-team All-American sophomore season of 2019-20.

Minnesota Duluth forward Noah Cates (21) prepares for a faceoff against Miami forward Matt Barry (26) in the first period Saturday, Feb. 6, at Amsoil Arena. (Tyler Schank / File / News Tribune)
Minnesota Duluth forward Noah Cates (21) prepares for a faceoff against Miami forward Matt Barry (26) in the first period Saturday, Feb. 6, at Amsoil Arena. (Tyler Schank / File / News Tribune)

Despite the departure of his older brother, Noah Cates said the plan is for him to return to wing as a senior next season.

“That was a big part of coming back, was making sure that I got back on the wing, but I’ll do whatever it takes to help this team and win,” Noah Cates said. “Talking with (Sandelin), I think that’s best for me and best for the team. That’s the plan right now, but some things can change and I’ll be even more comfortable if I’m at that center.”

The Bulldogs will be adding two centermen to the roster next year after signing 20-year-old Waterloo Blackhawks center Kyler Kleven of Moorhead, Minnesota, in the fall to a national letter of intent. This spring UMD also snatched up Miami senior center Casey Gilling from the transfer portal. Gilling will come to UMD in the fall as a fifth-year senior with 131 college games and 77 college points under his belt.

Those two will compete for ice time up the middle with returning centers Jesse Jacques, a senior, and juniors Luke Loheit and Ben Almquist.

Sandelin said Tuesday the program is still sorting out which freshmen will or will not come to UMD in the fall — Kleven will for sure come in because he is aging out of juniors — but the coach is happy to get back his captain and four seniors, something he's said last week he was hopeful would indeed happen.

“I’d like to have them all back," Sandelin said last Tuesday in his end-of-the-season press conference. "If that’s the case, we’re going to welcome them back with open arms and we’re going to be excited about having them back in the program for another year.”

This story was updated at 4 p.m. on April 20 with comments from Noah Cates and Koby Bender. It was originally posted at 2 p.m. on March 20.