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When the UMD Bulldogs opened their hockey season with a rousing 4-3 overtime victory over arch-rival Minnesota, I declared them a member of the very short list of elite Division I teams - even though they dropped a 4-3 decision to Michigan Tech in the Ice Breaker final the next night.
I’m sticking to my evaluation, although we know it’s a long season, and a lot of juggling is yet to come. Consider last weekend, when the Bulldogs had an unusual home-and-home nonconference series against Bemidji State. UMD gave up four goals in the third period and lost 5-2 in Bemidji, then the teams came to AMSOIL Arena and played a memorable scoreless battle.
After three periods of 0-0 hockey, the teams played a 5-on-5 overtime for 5 minutes, and it was still 0-0. Then, according to NCHC rules, they played another 5-minute sudden-death period 3-on-3, and it was STILL 0-0. Next came a sudden-death shootout. Peter Krieger went first for UMD, but Michael Bitzer, the brilliant senior goaltender for Bemidji State, stoned him. Nick Deery, in UMD’s goal, stopped Bemidji’s Myles Fitzgerald, too.
Next up was UMD’s Joey Anderson, but Bitzer gave him no opening. Second for the Beavers was Jay Dickman, a giant 6-foot-6 junior winger, skated in and made a point-blank cut to his left. When Deery reacted, Dickman reached his long arms out to the right and tucked his shot into the goal.
That left UMD winless for the weekend, with a loss, and another loss, although the second game stands as an official tie. UMD boosters talk about it as though it was a tie, but those of us at the arena know that officially it is a tie, but only one team left the arena with the game-winning goal.
As the Bulldogs prepare to face Merrimack in a nonconference series at AMSOIL this weekend, they are still an elite collection of players. With so many good players, the difficult part will be for coach Scott Sandelin to put together combinations that show consistent chemistry. An indication of that is the line combinations UMD employed against Minnesota and against Bemidji State. Not one forward unit against Bemidji was the same as against the Gophers.
What it does indicate is that as highly as we regard the NCHC as the best collegiate hockey conference, and we know the Big Ten is not comparable, we can’t overlook the WCHA. That league of what once was thought to be leftovers after the Big Ten and NCHC departed right now looks pretty good. Not only did UMD - my elite team - lose to Michigan Tech and once or twice to Bemidji State, both of the WCHA, but Minnesota State-Mankato went to Boston and swept two games from highly regarded Boston University.
But let’s go back to last Saturday night. After I noted Jay Dicksman had scored the sleight-of-hand goal, I also noticed he is from Shoreview. My family lived in Shoreview for 30 years before I “retired” from the Minneapolis Tribune and came home to Duluth. While there, I coached both my sons through baseball, hockey and later soccer. A teammate of my younger son, Jeff, was a lad named Jeremy Dickman. His dad, Karl Dickman, was long-time football coach at St. Paul Johnson. Over the ensuing years, I’d lost track of a lot of those kids I once coached, but it occurred to me that it was long enough ago that Jay could be Jeremy’s son.
I went down after the game and asked Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore if Jay’s dad was named Jeremy, by any chance. “No, his dad is Karl, and he was the football coach at Johnson for a lot of years.”
After introducing myself to Jay, he told me his dad was at the game, so I ran back upstairs and found him. In an amazing twist, or two, he had been divorced, remarried, and started a second family. After open-heart surgery, he had given up football coaching to become athletic director at Johnson. I asked him if Jay played at Mounds View, our neighborhood high school.
He explained that he had played Bantam hockey in the Mounds View program, and his birthdate was late enough that he couldn’t play his second year. The high school coach informed the entire team that no Bantams would be allowed to make the Mounds View varsity. Jay was disappointed, because he didn’t have a valid team to advance to, then. Karl Dickman said they searched around at Hill-Murray and Totino Grace about Jay possibly transferring there, and he asked Johnson coach Moose Younghans for advice. “He told me to try whatever we could, but if we didn’t find anything, he would be welcome at Johnson,” Karl said.
That’s what they did. As a 6-3 freshman, Jay Dickman made the St. Paul Johnson Governors. But wait, there’s more! Johnson’s first game was nonconference, against Mounds View. Johnson won, by a goal. The goal-scorer was a tall, lanky freshman named Jay Dickman!
You can’t make this stuff up.