The University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs opened their 63rd regular season on Oct. 7, hosting reigning CHA Champion and in-state rival Bemidji State at the DECC.
The vastly changed UMD roster will look considerably younger this season. Depending upon one’s point of view, the team is either retooling or rebuilding. Regardless, the Bulldogs will have their share of challenges to face this season.
UMD graduated 11 players this offseason. In addition, rugged defenseman Jay Rosehill (TB) opted to forego his final three years of eligibility to sign with Tampa Bay. With the large number of losses comes a large incoming freshman class – 12 to be exact. Of the 25 players that make up this season’s roster, 17 are underclassmen. UMD’s 2005-06 incoming freshman class is regarded as one of the best in the nation.
The only position where the Bulldogs didn’t suffer any losses was in goal. The tandem of senior Isaac Reichmuth and junior Josh Johnson, as well as third-stringer Dan Carlson all return this season. Reichmuth posted a 9-12-4 record in 27 appearances. Johnson posted a 6-5-2 record in 17 appearances. Both are looking to better their numbers this season. Carlson did not play in any games last season.
University of North Dakota transfer sophomore Nate Ziegelmann is the lone newcomer who’ll be battling for ice time as well.
With a much younger team, consistent goaltending will be paramount to the success of UMD this fall.
On the blue line, the Bulldogs have an outstanding mixture of returning players and newcomers. Two returning players that will be relied upon to lead the defensive corps are senior Steve Czech and sophomore Travis Gawryletz (PHI).
Czech, who will serve as team captain this season, will provide the UMD defense with a wealth of experience and a steadying presence. He finished with 13 points (three goals, ten assists) playing in all 38 games last season.
As a freshman last season, Gawryletz took full advantage of earning a regular spot on the team. As the season went long, so did the improvement in his play. By season’s end, he became a fixture on the UMD blue line, establishing both a physical presence. He played in 35 games last season, with five points (four goals, one assist).
Five incoming freshmen will make their debut on the UMD defense, among them are two 2005 NHL draft selections – Matt Niskanen (DAL) and Josh Meyers (LA).
Niskanen is a very highly regarded defenseman who comes to UMD from Virginia/Mountain Iron Buhl HS (USHSW). He capped a stellar high school career with 65 points (27 goals, 38 assists) in 29 games. Niskanen was named a Mr. Hockey Finalist and selected to the AP All-State First team. The combination of his speed and superb ability to move with the puck had many in the scouting community raving about this young man.
Meyers is a tall but somewhat lanky offensive defenseman who comes to UMD from Sioux City (USHL). He led all Musketeers blueliners in scoring with 32 points (eight goals, 24 assists). While he was very good during the regular season, Meyers was even better in the postseason. He led all USHL defensemen in postseason scoring with 10 points (one goal, nine assists) in helping Sioux City reach the Clark Cup Championship game. In addition to offensive skill and size, Meyers also brings some added intensity to the UMD defense.
The Bulldogs lost four of it top scorers from last season to graduation, including Evan Schwabe and Marco Peluso. The losses will mean that the returning and incoming freshmen forwards will need to pick up the slack. Among the returning players that will be counted on to just that are senior Tim Stapleton, sophomore Matt McKnight (DAL) and junior Bryan McGregor.
Stapleton returns as the top scoring player from season. He finished second in scoring with 39 points (19 goals, 20 assists) playing in all 38 games. The diminutive centerman has become one of UMD’s most consistent and reliable offensive players. This season, serving as assistant captain, Stapleton will also be relied upon for his leadership as well.
McKnight enjoyed a superb rookie campaign, despite missing eight games due to a shoulder injury. He led all Bulldogs rookies in scoring with 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 30 appearances. The area where McKnight proved to be an invaluable commodity to UMD was on special teams. Three of his six goals came on the power play, while two came short-handed.
McGregor is one Bulldogs player who could have a breakout year this season. After struggling through a tough sophomore season, McGregor is looking to get back on track and could see a more expanded role on the team this season. The Niagara Falls, ONT native played in 24 games last season, posting 10 points (three goals, seven assists).
Six talented newcomers will join the returning players on the Bulldogs forward lines, including a trio of NHL prospects in Mason Raymond (VAN), Michael Gergen (PIT) and Matt Greer (CBJ).
Raymond comes to UMD from Camrose (AJHL), where he led the Kodiaks in total combined (regular and postseason) scoring with 102 points (49 goals, 53 assists) in 70 appearances. Of his 49 goals, 19 came on the power play. The Cochrane, Alberta native is noted for his tremendous hockey sense and creative playmaking ability, in addition to his outstanding scoring capability.
Gergen comes to UMD from Shattuck-St. Mary’s (USHSW), where he amassed 117 points (64 goals, 53 assists) in 69 games last season. The Hastings, MN native brings some blazing speed and a nose for the net to the Bulldogs team. He is also a player that can be utilized at both the center and wing positions.
Greer was a 2004 NHL draft selection of the Columbus Blue Jackets (eighth round, 255th overall). He comes to UMD from Des Moines (USHL), where he had 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists) playing in 60 games. In addition to offensive abilities, Greer brings size and is noted for his great work ethic.
Another freshman player that’s well worth watching this season is Nick Kemp. The Hermantown, MN native comes to UMD from Sioux City (USHL), where he finished sixth on the Musketeers team last season with 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) playing in 59 games. He combines size with great hands, strong defensive awareness and the versatility to play both center and wing equally well. Kemp has been on scouting radars since his days at Hermantown HS and is a very good prospect for the 2006 NHL draft.
(Number of NHL prospects on 2005-06 roster: 8)
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