‘Significant’ personnel losses have Minnesota-Duluth looking for offense

There were skeptics before the 2011-12 season started who doubted that Minnesota-Duluth could come close to the success it had a year earlier.

The Bulldogs won the national title in 2011 but Jack Connolly lost the wings of his high-scoring top line. Still, Connolly won the Hobey Baker Award, UMD managed to take second in the WCHA standings and finished one game away from the Frozen Four.

Figuring out where the offense is supposed to come from this season will be a much more difficult challenge.

Connolly (20-40–60) graduated and so did Travis Oleksuk (21-32–53). JT Brown (24-23–47) was supposed to be the new go-to guy, but the electrifying wing signed a pro contract after his sophomore season.

“We obviously have some significant losses,” Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said, “including three 20-goal scorers and a goalie that won a national championship.”

Kenny Reiter started in goal for most of the past three seasons and compiled a .911 save percentage. Aaron Crandall has the most experience of those most likely to replace Reiter but has stopped only 89 percent of the shots he has faced in his collegiate career.

Freshmen Alex Fons and Matt McNeely will challenge Crandall for the spot, though both had sub-.900 save percentages last season in juniors.

“We have some unknowns and holes to fill but our team is going to be epitomized by our older group,” Sandelin said. “Cody Danberg is probably the oldest guy in the league, a good character guy and he kind of epitomizes our team. We’re really going to rely a lot on our upperclassmen.”

Danberg, UMD’s captain, has seen the ice just once in the past two seasons due to injuries. He was knocked out last year with a knee injury in the season opener. He is the first Bulldogs player to be granted a sixth year of eligibility.

Seniors Wade Bergman and Drew Olson give the Bulldogs a veteran presence on the blue line. Sophomore and returning leading scorer Caleb Herbert’s numbers need to increase from his freshman season when he finished fourth on the team with 33 points.

About the Bulldogs

2011-12 overall record: 25-10-6

2011-12 WCHA record: 16-7-5 (second)

2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): Sixth

Key losses: F Jack Connolly, F Travis Oleksuk, F JT Brown, D Brady Lamb, G Kenny Reiter

Players to watch: F Caleb Herbert, D Wade Bergman, F Joe Basaraba

Impact rookie: F Charlie Sampair

Why the Bulldogs will finish higher than the coaches poll: Caleb Herbert becomes a leader and puts the team on his back, carrying the load offensively.

Why the Bulldogs will finish lower than the coaches poll: UMD lost way too much offensive firepower and its starting goaltender of two years.