Scott Sandelin has a number in his head, but it may not be the one you’re thinking of.
It’s not 10, as in Minnesota-Duluth’s place in the 10-team WCHA in his first year with the school.
It’s not 28, as in the number of losses the Bulldogs had in 2000-01. It’s not seven, as in the number of wins.
It’s not even the astronomical 166, as in the number of goals his team allowed.
You’re a winner if you guessed 36, as in the average number of shots the Bulldogs gave up in Sandelin’s debut season in Duluth. The problem is, you’ll be a loser on the ice more often than not if you give up 36 shots a game.
So, among numerous things that need to be fixed before UMD will make headway in the WCHA, one that stands out is the tremendous number of chances the Bulldogs are allowing.
“I don’t get so caught up in total number of shots, but I think our biggest problem is where those shots were coming from,” Sandelin said. “There’s no question we have to be better defensively. My goal, and it’s not easy in college hockey, is to limit teams to 20 to 25 shots, and not quality shots like they were getting.
“We can’t go into games giving up that many shots and that number of quality shots and expect to win.”
That’s just one of the problems that plagued the Bulldogs last season and could show up again. On the other side of the puck, they scored only 103 goals, 2.64 a game. That resulted in nearly a goal and a half more in the against column than in the for column.
The Bulldogs will have to close that gap to be successful, but Sandelin’s heard that line before.
“That question gets asked all the time,” he said. “People around here say, ‘Did you bring in goalscorers?’ I say, well, what are goalscorers? There’s not a lot of guys that are pure goalscorers.
“I’ll take 10 guys that score 10 goals as opposed to two guys that score 20. We’ve got some guys that are capable of scoring 20. I think we have more guys that can score more in that 10-to-15 range and give us a little more depth that way.”
The burden of producing on offense falls on everyone, but perhaps most on Tom Nelson and Nate Anderson. They’re the keys, being the top two scorers on last year’s team.
— Scott Sandelin, discussing the source of offense for the Bulldogs this season
“Not to put pressure on him, but I think Tom can be as good as anybody in our league,” Sandelin said, putting pressure on the senior anyway.
Sandelin touts Nelson, a 6-foot, 190-pound center from Superior, Wis., as a great leader with great hands, and wouldn’t be surprised if Nelson put together a season worthy of first-team recognition.
Both Nelson and Anderson made jumps last season, Nelson to 41 points and Anderson to 30.
“Part of it, maybe, is they regained some of their confidence in what they can do offensively,” Sandelin said. “I want those guys to know they had a good year last year, but to build on that. I think both of them are capable of doing that.”
To be successful on offense, though, the Bulldogs have to get consistent scoring from a number of players. Watch for improved totals from senior captain Judd Medak and junior Jon Francisco. If their numbers rise, chances are, so will the Bulldogs.
Unlike the offense, the defense will see some changes in personnel at the top. Jesse Fibiger and Ryan Coole graduated, taking with them a physical element that may be tough for UMD to recapture.
In its place, however, Sandelin expects his defensemen to be better at moving the puck. Eventually.
“I like to say we’re going to be pretty young there, to a point,” Sandelin said. “But I like our freshmen and our returning guys. We’re going to be much more mobile and we’re going to be much better at moving the puck. That might not be evident right away, but in time, it’s what I wanted to see here.”
In time, Sandelin wants to see a little bit of what he saw in his time as an assistant at North Dakota: defensemen making plays, not just stopping them.
The Bulldogs are moving Mark Carlson to defense from forward in an effort to gain more experience in the back. Carlson and Andy Reierson have good offensive traits for defensemen, but for now, they’ll have to concentrate on defense.
In the future, though, the Bulldogs’ defensemen will have an added responsibility.
“If we lacked one thing from losing Coole and Fibiger, is maybe a little of the physical,” Sandelin said. “What we gained is, we’ve got some guys that, even though they’re young I think in time will be very good in creating that transition game.”
For now, though, Duluth’s defensemen have to work with the goaltenders, and vice versa, to bring the goals against down. Rob Anderson got the majority of the minutes in net last season, with Adam Coole limited by injury.
Neither had good numbers: Anderson’s goals against average was 3.80; Coole’s was 4.27.
“I think Rob Anderson proved he is a very good goaltender last year; the unfortunate thing is he saw a lot of shots,” Sandelin said. “Adam Coole was doing great until he hurt his thumb. He got some confidence back at the end of the year even though he didn’t win.”
The Recruits: The First Class
Sandelin’s first full recruiting class includes the Canadian Junior A player of the year, but the coach doesn’t want to focus on that.
“I don’t like to put pressure on our freshmen,” Sandelin said. “I like to talk about them, but I don’t like people to go, ‘He’s the Canadian junior player of the year, he’s got to be great.’”
But Sandelin is excited about bringing in Tyler Brosz, who made a name for himself last year as the captain of the Olds Grizzlies of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“He’s kind of a guy that I like to say doesn’t do one thing great, but does a lot of things well,” he said.
The Schedule: Early Challenge
The Bulldogs open the regular season at the Maverick Stampede in Omaha, Neb., where they’ll play host Nebraska-Omaha and either Michigan or Providence.
“I like it. I think it’s a good gauge to play those types of teams, especially early in the year,” Sandelin said. “If these are the top programs, how do we do and where do we need to go to get there? It’s a great start for us.”
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs host defending national champion Boston College, Yale and Miami in the Silverado Shootout in late December.