After leading Minnesota Duluth to its second NCAA men’s hockey championship in April in St. Paul, Scott Sandelin was a popular man this summer. There were celebrations of the Bulldogs’ title, duties as an assistant to the U.S. junior national team and family obligations.
“Summer was busy,’’ Sandelin said Tuesday at NCHC media day at Xcel Energy Center. “Obviously, the first month was a few appearances and different things. Not a lot of weekends, not a lot of lake time, not a lot of golf time. A lot of hotel time.’’
He’s not complaining by any means.
“The biggest thing is not referencing last year too much,’’ Sandelin said. “It’s a new group, and they have to create their own identity. That’s going to take place over the course of a season.’’
Sandelin and the Bulldogs begin defense of their championship with their Oct. 6 season opener against the Gophers at Amsoil Arena. The teams meet again the next night at Mariucci Arena.
“They’re excited about that,’’ Sandelin said of his players. “They’re always fun to play. Our fans like having them in the building. Obviously, they’ve got a different coach there that will give them some new life, too. It’s a good start for us, a good test for us, and I like the fact that we’ve got one at home and one on the road.
“… I’m glad we’re playing them now,’’ Sandelin added. “Hopefully, we’ll see them later in the year. It’s good for both teams.’’
St. Cloud State’s Bob Motzko was hired as Gophers coach after Don Lucia retired. Sandelin reiterated that he had no interest in the Minnesota job and wasn’t concerned about whom the Gophers ended up hiring.
“I’m happy where I’m at,’’ he said. “I didn’t really care [about Minnesota]. They’re an enemy. With Bob, we’ve coached against each other, known each other. I don’t care who goes in there, they’re still an enemy. You respect the job that those guys do. Doesn’t matter to me. I was fine if the old staff stayed together, too.’’
The NCHC has won the past three national championships, and Sandelin doesn’t see the eight-team hockey-only conference slowing down.
“This is going to be another one of those years. I think it might be one of the strongest years,’’ he said. “Some teams keep getting better, which pushes all of us. I’m not guaranteeing we’ll be holding another national championship trophy in our league again, but I certainly think there’s the makings of teams in this league to do that again.’’
Last season, Minnesota Duluth was the lone team from outside the Big Ten to make the Frozen Four. The Bulldogs, the last at-large team to make the NCAA tournament, beat Ohio State 2-1 in the semifinals and Notre Dame 2-1 for the championship.
“It was nice last year being the one school against the three Big Ten schools,’’ Sandelin said.
Larson era begins at St. Cloud State
At St. Cloud State, Brett Larson, who was Sandelin’s top assistant at UMD last season, replaces Motzko. He inherits team that won the NCHC regular-season title in 2017-18 and was ranked No. 1 for much of the season.
“There’s up and down the ice, a lot of skill, a lot of skating,’’ Larson said of the Huskies’ practices. “It’s been really fun to see this team execute at such a high pace and intensity.’’
Larson also likes the cohesiveness of his team.
“The one thing that I’m really impressed with is the leadership and culture at St. Cloud,’’ he said. “Right away, there’s a message from the captains that there aren’t any freshmen or seniors or juniors or sophomores. We’re all Huskies in this thing together.’’
Larson said he’s spoken from time to time with Motzko.
“Unfortunately, I just sat with him at the Vikings game on Sunday,’’ he said of the 27-6 loss to the Buffalo Bills. “Neither of us enjoyed it.
“The biggest piece of advice [from Motzko] is that I have to go in there an be myself,’’ he added. “If I’m going in there any trying to be him or somebody else, it’s going to come across as fake.’’
The Huskies were picked by media to finish second behind Minnesota Duluth in the NCHC, and Larson relishes the pressure. “For sure, it does [put pressure on him],’’ he said. “I wouldn’t want it any other way.’’
When Larson got the St. Cloud State job, he told his family the news. His 9-year-old son, Lane, initially didn’t take it well. “He said, ‘Dad, I hate the Huskies,’ ’’ Larson said. “So, this summer, one of the first orders of business was to get him down to the locker room, and the Poehling brothers shot pucks with him for about an hour. … Now, I’ve got him wearing a St. Cloud shirt. We’re getting him over the hump a bit.’’
North Dakota seeks rebound
At North Dakota, the Fighting Hawks are coming off an odd situation for them. They saw their 15-year NCAA tournament appearance streak ended in March.
“It makes us a little more hungry,’’ UND coach Brad Berry said. “We want to get back to it. … By narrowing missing out on the national tournament makes us even more motivated and hungry.’’
Berry, whose team was picked to finish third in the NCHC, expects a tight race in the conference.
“It’s very difficult to rank those eight teams,’’ he said. “This year out of any year has the most parity in the NCHC. It’s going to be interesting to see how it unfolds.’’
North Dakota opens the season with three consecutive Minnesota opponents – a home-and-home against Bemidji State, a home series against Minnesota State Mankato and the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game against the Gophers at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. Berry wants his team to focus on Game 1.
“We’re concerned about Oct. 6 [at Bemidji State],’’ Berry said. “… We play those guys every year, and it’s like the Stanley Cup.’’
To keep his team’s mind off that trip to Las Vegas, Berry addressed it head-on.
“We had a meeting at the end of August once our guys came back for school,’’ he said. “One of the things we talked about was, ‘OK, here are the tickets. Let’s get this out, let’s get this done, let’s not be talking about tickets and Vegas. Let’s get this thing done and get it put to bed right away.’ ’’
Preseason all-conference team named
The NCHC named its preseason all-conference team, and St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth landed two players each on the team, as selected by media members.
For the Huskies, senior forward Robby Jackson and senior defenseman Jimmy Schuldt made the team, while the Bulldogs had sophomore defenseman Scott Perunovich and junior goalie Hunter Shepard honored. The other two members of the team were Colorado College junior forward Nick Halloran and Western Michigan junior forward Wade Allison.