DULUTH, Minn. — Missing three of its top six scorers from last season isn’t an insurmountable loss for the Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team of 2009-10.
Justin Fontaine, Mike Connolly and Jack Connolly, the three returnees, hope to make up the deficit. They combined for four goals and three assists Saturday night in opening the season with a 4-0 exhibition win over the University of British Columbia of Vancouver before 3,705 fans at the DECC.
Scoring leader MacGregor Sharp, and defensemen Josh Meyers and Evan Oberg, all playing professionally this season, are gone, including Sharp’s team-leading 50 points. However, Jack Connolly, a sophomore center, and Fontaine, a junior right winger, each had two goals in the win as linemates. Mike Connolly, a sophomore winger, assisted on a Fontaine goal.
“We have guys with a lot of talent, who can put pucks in the net when it counts,” said Jack Connolly. “Sure, replacing 50 points isn’t easy, but we have players who can step up.”
UMD’s defense and offense were respectable in the opener, which came after 90 minutes of the first official practice in the morning. Sophomore goalies Brady Hjelle and Kenny Reiter combined for the shutout with 22 saves, which gave the hometown crowd the first look at the post-Alex Stalock era.
The offense got a spark from Jack Connolly, who scored with 29 seconds left in the first period from the right circle, and the second 2:14 into the second from the crease.
“If you grow up as a playmaker, there’s always that pressure to score, so I don’t think there’s added pressure this year,” said Fontaine. “I don’t know one of our guys who isn’t working very hard to be better than last year.”
Fontaine connected for goals 86 seconds apart midway through the third period for a 4-0 lead, the first a short-handed rush with Mike Connolly. UMD led in shots on goal 39-22.
British Columbia (1-3 in the preseason) plays at Minnesota this afternoon.
“I liked what I saw overall, and from the first two lines,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “They had the puck a lot, they made plays and scored goals. That’s what they’re supposed to do.”
Said senior winger Jordan Fulton, “We’d like to have two productive lines and two shut down lines, and be a team that’s strong five-on-five.”
The Bulldogs open the regular season in a split of home games this weekend against Lake Superior State on Friday and Northern Michigan a week from Sunday.