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UMD men's hockey: Bulldogs' Patt ready for first college start while teammates work through COVID-19 protocols

Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said junior goaltender Ryan Fanti and sophomore defenseman Wyatt Kaiser have been ruled out for this weekend's series at Northern Michigan due to COVID-19 protocols. With sophomore goaltender Zach Stejskal also out fighting cancer, that opens the door for redshirt senior Ben Patt to make his first start in goal as a Bulldog.

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Minnesota Duluth goaltender Ben Patt looks up at the scoreboard during a 2021 NCAA Frozen Four practice day at PPG Paints Arena on April 7, 2021, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Contributed / File / Justin K. Aller / NCAA Photos via Getty Images
NCAA Photos via Getty Images

After five seasons of sitting behind Nick Deery, Hunter Shepard, Ryan Fanti and Zach Stejskal — watching, cheering and providing feedback from the bench to his fellow goaltenders — Minnesota Duluth redshirt senior Ben Patt will make his first regular-season start this weekend when the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs play a nonconference series at Northern Michigan.

Puck drop is scheduled for 5:37 p.m. CT on Friday and Saturday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette.

“I feel great, I’m excited, I’m ready to battle for these guys the way I know they’ll battle for me this weekend,” Patt said. “Hopefully we’ll go in there and get two wins.”

Patt’s first college start isn’t coming in the fashion he’d desire. UMD junior starting goaltender Ryan Fanti has been ruled out this week due to COVID-19 protocols, as has sophomore defenseman Wyatt Kaiser. The program is 100 percent vaccinated.

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UMD is also without sophomore goaltender Zach Stejskal, who is battling testicular cancer. Senior goaltender Brady Anderson, who was added to the team last month from the UMD club hockey program following Stejskal's diagnosis, will serve as the Bulldogs' backup at NMU.

“Not how you want (the first start) to happen, but in talking to Ryan, we deal with the punches and we deal with the situations,” Patt said.

The 5-foot-11 Patt joined the Bulldogs as a freshman in 2017-18 — the season UMD won the first of back-to-back national championships — after playing for the Notre Dame Hounds of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in 2016-17. He missed the first half of his final junior season due to shoulder surgery, but still earned himself the honor of Hounds MVP after posting a .925 save percentage and 2.39 goals against average in 18 starts.

The native of Brampton, Ontario, made nine postseason starts as well that year, finishing with a .920 save percentage and 2.69 GAA. He made 39 saves on 41 shots in what was his last official start before joining the Bulldogs — a 2-1 loss to the Flin Flon Bombers in Game 5 of a 2017 second-round SJHL playoff series.

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Minnesota Duluth goaltender Ben Patt (36) makes a save against Wisconsin on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, at the Chippewa Area Ice Arena in Chippewa Falls. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

A guest this week on the News Tribune’s Bulldog Insider Podcast, Patt said the thought had crossed his mind that he might never get that first regular season start or appear in a game, however, there’s more to college hockey than playing college hockey.

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“That’s one thing I’ve learned from my time here that wearing this Bulldog and being a part of this program, it changes you,” Patt said. “It can drastically change you as a person and who you are out in the community and in a lot of other things away from hockey. There is life after hockey and guys start to understand that while they are here and build themselves as a person as well.

“In reality, I wouldn’t have been too upset about (not playing). There’s a part of me that love the game and I’d love to play. It wouldn’t have been too heartbreaking for me, but it’s definitely an understatement to say I’m a lot happier now to say that I did get a few in there.”

Patt’s only action in five seasons as the third-string goalie at UMD has been for single periods of exhibition games. He gave up three goals on 12 shots as a freshman in the third period against Alberta in 2017-18. He didn’t get in the exhibition against the USA Hockey National Team Development Program as a redshirt freshman in 2018-19 due to a season-ending shoulder injury. He gave up three goals on eight shots in the second period against Alberta as a redshirt sophomore in 2019-20 and then didn’t play a year ago during a season that was delayed by the coronavirus.

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Minnesota Duluth goaltender Ben Patt makes a save against Alberta during a 2019-20 exhibition game at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

“Last year before we started the year, he had a really good two months and probably deserved an opportunity in the (NCHC Pod in Omaha), quite frankly,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “But we started Ryan and Ryan got hot.”

Patt got the start in the first period of this year’s exhibition against Wisconsin in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin , making a number of big saves as he backstopped the Bulldogs in a scoreless first period. No officials shots or statistics were kept in the game.

Sandelin said Patt “played great” against the Badgers on that Sunday afternoon in Chippewa Falls, and he expects Patt to do the same this weekend against Northern Michigan.

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“He’s got a great work ethic,” Sandelin said of Patt. “He’s been under Brant’s (Nicklin) tutelage for a long time. He’s watched some great goaltenders, he’s learned from those guys. He’s got his own competitiveness to him that I think you’ll see.

“He’s a fiery little dude. I’m excited to see him play and I’m excited for the opportunity that he has.”

Fanti, the reigning NCHC Goaltender of the Week and Month, has started 12 of 14 games thus far for UMD while Stejskal started the other two games. Fanti’s .946 save percentage and 1.25 GAA ranks third nationally among goaltenders who have played nine or more games this season.

Sandelin said Wednesday that Fanti and Kaiser will be available next weekend when the Bulldogs return to NCHC play to host Denver at Amsoil Arena.

Fifth-year senior center Casey Gilling, who along with Kaiser missed last weekend’s series due to illness, is expected to be back for the Bulldogs against the Wildcats, as is freshman center Dominic James after he missed Saturday’s game against the Nanooks with what he said Wednesday was tightness in his neck.

Junior wing Luke Loheit remains "day-to-day," according to Sandelin. Loheit left last Friday's game against Alaska with an apparent upper body injury and missed Saturday's game.

A Movember to remember

Patt’s first collegiate start as a Bulldogs comes after leading the team’s annual Movember campaign that raises fund and awareness for men’s health issues — both physical and mental — by growing mustaches.

Receiving a major boost last week when Stejskal went public with his testicular cancer diagnosis — one of the diseases Movember raises funds and awareness for, along with prostate cancer and suicide — the Bulldogs raised $11,160 in the month of November .

The Bulldogs had set an initial goal of raising $1,000, before upping it to $5,000, $8,000 and finally $10,000.

“Pretty incredible,” Sandelin said. “I don’t think that was the intention. They’ve done this every year. Obviously with Zach’s situation, that boosted the support. It’s pretty amazing, when you think of it. Great job by those guys.”

Patt said he lacked the words to describe how proud he was of his teammates for coming together, raising that much money for the Movember foundation and getting behind Stejskal’s fight against cancer.

Patt said the fundraising campaign really brought the team closer together as they strived to hit a common goal away from the game of hockey. It was something the team really felt good about, he said.

“We have the ability using our social media, using our platform, to do some good and try and give back a little bit,” Patt said. “This was the first great example of the power we do have to motivate and move some people, to give back to a charity and foundation like that.”

Wednesday was Dec. 1, so Patt had already shaved off the handlebar mustache he’d been growing in November. Another mustache contest for him is underway, however, as he defends his 2019 NCHC Best Movember Mustache title against seven other NCHC rivals. Online voting runs through Monday, Dec. 5.

Scouting the Wildcats

After losing five straight games between Oct. 16-30 — getting swept by Bemidji State and Minnesota State — the Wildcats went 6-1-1 in the month of November.

Junior forward AJ Vanderbeck (12 goals) and sophomore forward Michael Colella (11 goals) lead a potent Wildcats offense that is fourth in the country in total goals with 61 in 15 games. NMU’s power play ranks ninth in the nation at 26.6 percent, though only 17 of 61 goals have come on the power play.

Grant Potulny — a native of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and former Minnesota player and coach — is in his fifth season as head coach of the Wildcats, whose ice sheet at the Berry Events Center is the wider Olympic-sized rink.

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