Compared to most teams, the Bulldogs are old, with about an even number of upper- and underclassmen.
However, the main question for Scott Sandelin’s crew will be offense.
“We might not have that one big line or that one dynamic player,” he said, emphasizing that the team will have to hope for production from everyone as well as a few players to break out offensively.
However, if the Bulldogs want a shot at earning home ice in the WCHA, Sandelin will need his team to find its scoring — and winning — touch early on. Though the squad did pull it together somewhat in the latter part of last season, aided by the late-season breakout of goalie Josh Johnson, the league is too packed together for a team to move from the basement to the ceiling in a couple of months.
That being said, if Minnesota-Duluth can get steady defense and goaltending to keep in some games while the offense gels, the Bulldogs have a shot at fighting for one of the last home-ice positions.
The front lines are where Minnesota-Duluth is going to struggle the most this year. The Bulldogs lost their top two offensive forwards — Mason Raymond (14-32-46) to the professional ranks and Bryan McGregor (16-12-28) to graduation — as well as their top-scoring defenseman, losing a total of 108 points of offensive firepower.
As a result, UMD only returns two 20-point scorers (junior forward MacGregor Sharp and junior defenseman Josh Meyers) and four others with double-digit point totals.
“We lost a chunk of scoring,” said Sandelin. “The big challenge will be which guys coming back are going to assume a little more responsibility offensively.”
Sandelin thinks that junior Michael Gergen has the capability to be the team’s offensive catalyst. However, he will need support from Sharp and seniors Matt McKnight and Mike Curry, as well as a return to form by juniors Nick Kemp and Andrew Carroll. The Bulldogs could also hope for freshmen Justin Fontaine and Kyle Schmidt to step in and contribute right away in hopes of finding another Raymond.
On the Blue Line
On one hand, Minnesota-Duluth lost a strong defenseman and offensive leader in Matt Niskanen, whose 31 points may be tough to replace.
On the other hand, the Bulldogs have five members of their defensive corps returning.
“We’ve got five guys that have played a lot of minutes, highlighted by Josh Meyers and Jason Garrison,” said Sandelin.
The Bulldogs will also look to senior alternate captain Travis Gawryletz for leadership and possibly to freshman Evan Oberg to make an impact.
In the Crease
The Bulldogs will probably go with sophomore and WCHA All-Rookie team member Alex Stalock in net this year. Stalock was the first UMD goaltender to play every minute of the team’s first 10 games in 12 years last year and performed admirably, before eventually losing the post to Josh Johnson.
If Stalock goes through a sophomore slump, however, look for Sandelin to go with veteran senior Nate Ziegelmann. Though he didn’t play last year, Ziegelmann can handle the rigors of the WCHA, as evidenced by his strong play at the end of the 2005-06 campaign.