The No. 5 Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team officially opens their 2021-22 season this weekend against No. 15 Bemidji State. Friday will be UMD’s first official action since their 3-2 overtime loss to UMass in the 2021 Frozen Four in Pittsburgh, PA.
THE MATCHUP No. 15 Bemidji enters the series after dropping a 2-1 exhibition decision to North Dakota last weekend in Grand Forks. Though UMD and BSU are located just a few hours apart, this weekend’s games will be the team’s first meeting since October of 2017. During their series five years ago, the Beavers used four 3rd period goals to notch a 5-2 victory in game one. In game two, UMD’s Nick Deery and BSU’s Michael Bitzer both pitched matching shutouts as the teams would play to a 0-0 tie.
ONLY ONE REMAINS Just one current Bulldog remains from the two team’s last matchup in 2017. During BSU’s 5-2 win on Friday, Oct. 2017, Bulldogs defenseman Louie Roehl posted a primary assists on the games opening goal from Blake Young.
RETURNING FOR THE BEAVERS For the 2021-22 season, Bemidji State returns four of it’s top five scorers from a year ago. The group of returners includes Beavers senior forward Alex Lerullo who led the team in points last season with seven goals and 17 assists for 24 points in 29 games. A key loss for BSU was their second leading scorer Brendan Harris who tallied 23 points in 29 games on the season. Another key loss for Bemidji is 2020-21 starting goaltender Zach Driscoll. During the Beaver’s NCAA Tournament run a year ago, Driscoll posted a 15-9-3 overall record with a 2.32 GAA and a .922 SV%. Driscoll has since transferred to one of UMD’s NCHC rivals, North Dakota.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT This past Sunday, UMD defeated the No. 13 University of Wisconsin Badgers 4-2 in a unique exhibition match from Chippewa Falls, Wis. Casey Gilling, Hunter Lellig, Carter Loney, and Jesse Jacques provided the offense for the Bulldogs. For UMD newcomers Casey Gilling and Carter Loney, though the stats won’t count to their career/season totals, getting on the board with their new team has to feel good. Additionally, all three UMD goaltenders (Ryan Fanti, Ben Patt, and Zach Stejskal) saw action during Sunday’s victory. Over 900 people were in attendance for UMD’s win in Chippewa Falls. The game was played at the Chippewa Area Ice Arena, an extremely unique environment to host a D1 hockey game. Chippewa Falls is located approximately halfway between Madison, Wis. and Duluth, Minn.
KEY CENTER ADDITION With the departure of a few centerman from the 2020-21 season, UMD turned to the transfer portal for some needed help down the middle. The Bulldogs landed an experienced veteran in Casey Gilling. Gilling is no newcomer to the NCHC, having spent four seasons with Miami (OH) University prior to making the move to Duluth. While with the RedHawks, Gilling tallied 26 goals and 51 assists for a total of 77 career points in 131 games. During UMD’s exhibition game with Wisconsin, Gilling impressed with the game-winning goal for the Bulldogs. Look for Gilling to take many key draws in various situations for Minnesota Duluth.
FILLING THE VOID UMD comes into the new season having lost it’s top three scorers from last season. Forwards Nick Swaney, Jackson Cates, and Cole Koepke have all moved-on to professional hockey. Swaney led UMD in points a season ago with 13 goals and 15 assists for 28 points in 28 games. Jackson Cates, who made NHL debut with the Philadelphia Flyers earlier this year, notched 11 goals and 16 assists in 28 games last season. UMD’s leading goal scorer Koepke noted 15 goals in just 28 games last season. UMD will look for Gilling to provide some additionally offense in the wake of a few key losses.
CAPTAIN CATES For the second-straight season, senior forward Noah Cates will serve as team captain. A native of Stillwater, Minn., Cates was named to the NCHC’s Preseason All-Conference Team last month.