For the second consecutive season, junior goaltender Ryan Fanti is off to a hot start in the Minnesota Duluth net.
The Thunder Bay, Ontario, native started 11 of 12 games for the Bulldogs a year ago, posting a 1.97 goals against average, .930 save percentage and 4-0-1 record in his first five starts.
Fanti has started four of UMD’s first six games this season — including both games a week ago against Minnesota with sophomore Zach Stejskal injured — and led the Bulldogs to wins all four times via a 1.75 GAA and .926 save percentage.
UMD coach Scott Sandelin said Wednesday that Fanti is just carrying over a good season in 2020-21 right into 2021-22.
“He started the year well last year and obviously this year, he's kind of taken off. Same, type of thing, right?” Sandelin said. “He's won four games for us. He was the difference, I think, in Saturday's game against Minnesota, for sure. It's great to see.”
Fanti sat and watched behind Hunter Shepard as a freshman in 2019-20 before finally getting the chance to prove himself in games a year ago. Making 19 starts, Fanti finished the season with a 2.36 GAA, .907 save percentage and 11-7-2 record.
Fanti and Stejskal began rotating on a regular basis in February of last season, with Fanti getting both starts in the NCHC playoffs and Stejskal getting the start in both NCAA tournament games after Fanti missed the NCAA Frozen Four due to COVID-19 protocols.
They rotated the first four games of this season until Stejskal’s injury last week in practice. Stejskal, a Cohasset native, had a 3.50 GAA and .857 save percentage in a win at Bemidji State and Ice Breaker Tournament loss to Michigan.
After starting 15 of the first 18 games a season ago, Fanti said Wednesday it was tough at times toward the end of last year not getting the start every night. This year, he’s not worried about that anymore, and better prepared mentally to handle being part of a goaltending rotation.
“Obviously I want to be in the net day-in and day-out — every goalie does — but I think it's one thing I got better with last year,” Fanti said. “It can be disheartening if you don’t get a start, but at the same time, you got to turn around and be there for the team. I’m rooting for Zach if he’s in the net or if (Ben) Patt is in the net. We’re giving each other constructive criticism during the game with things we see.
"At the end of the day, we all want to win. It would be nice to get another ring on the finger, seeing the older guys that have it. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.”
Sandelin didn’t have a timetable for when either Stejskal or junior wing Luke Loheit would be returning from the injuries that kept them out of the series against the Gophers.
While Stejskal missed both games, Loheit’s injury came Friday in Minneapolis, forcing him to miss the series finale at Amsoil Arena. Sandelin didn’t seem confident Wednesday that Loheit would be back for the NCHC-opening series on Nov. 5-6 at Western Michigan.
“Luke has had a really good year,” said Sandelin, who added Loheit is still undergoing evaluation this week. “It’s unfortunate that he’s out here for a while.”
Long layoff for UMD women
While the UMD men’s team takes one weekend off before NCHC play begins, the UMD women are taking three weekends off after playing four straight WCHA series to start the season.
Coach Maura Crowell said Wednesday the break was originally only supposed to be a two-week layoff while a few of her players are away at Olympic trials — senior goaltender Emma Soderberg has already left to join Sweden for its qualifying group while sophomore defenseman Nina Jobst-Smith leaves this weekend to meet up with Germany.
UMD originally intended to play Mercyhurst this weekend, however, Crowell said the Lakers had to back out due to COVID-19 budgeting issues. Robert Morris was also supposed to be on the schedule this year for UMD, but the Colonials cut their hockey program during the offseason.
UMD returns to the ice Nov. 19-20 for more WCHA play at Bemidji State before finally seeing some nonconference competition Thanksgiving weekend against Penn State and St. Lawrence at the D1 in DC Tournament.
UMD’s only other nonconference series this season is New Years Eve and New Years Day at Harvard.
Former UMD, East goalie dies of cancer
Former Duluth East High School and University of Minnesota Duluth goaltender Mike Cortes died last week following a battle with esophageal cancer. He was 57.
Cortes, a 1982 graduate of East, played three seasons for the Bulldogs from 1985-1988, appearing in 31 games. Prior to enrolling at UMD, he played in the United States Hockey League with the Dubuque Fighting Saints, helping the junior team win the USHL's Clark Cup as postseason champions in 1982-83.
According to his obituary with the Duluth News Tribune, a celebration of Cortes' life will be announced at a future date.