Rebuilding replaces NCAA tourney for Bulldogs

John Gilbert

Ron "Buzzy" Busniuk, UMD center turned defenseman from Thunder Bay, and All-America in 1970, died at age 75 back home in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

If you’re coaching an NCAA college hockey team, then unless you win the national championship you’re going to face some sort of a rebuilding job for next year. UMD coach Scott Sandelin is definitely in that segment, since the Bulldogs failed to reach the NCAA tournament. His Bulldog players jump-started Sandelin’s task this week, when sophomore Ben Steeves — the team’s leading scorer and only true sniper  — signed an NHL contract with the Florida Panthers and is passing up his final two seasons of college hockey.

That came right on the heels of the news that Blake Biondi, Darian Gotz and goaltender Zach Stejskal were all entering the transfer portal and will also leave the program. Biondi, Gotz and Stejskal are all seniors, but all have the opportunity to return for a fifth season. Biondi is expected to announce what college he is transferring to, while Gotz and Stejskal are both expected to give pro hockey a try.

“Biondi and our staff came to a mutual agreement that he’d be better off going somewhere else for a fresh start,” said Sandelin, as he prepared to leave for Sioux Falls, where he will be helping supervise the Sioux Falls Regional this weekend, where Boston University will play RIT, and Minnesota will face Omaha in Thursday’s semifinals. “Gotz wants to join his brother, Eric, to play professionally in Europe, and Stejskal also plans to give pro hockey a try.”

UMD has several commitments from players who will be freshmen this fall, including former Hermantown state tournament standouts, brothers Sam and Max Plante, and former Warroad state tournament star Jayson Shaugabay, as the best-known rookies. Defenseman Ty Hanson, who left Hermantown to play in the USHL for a season is also coming in.

“We’ve got all our defense back plus a couple coming in,” said Sandelin.”We’ve also got two goaltenders coming in, and while we’re adding some forwards, we’ll probably check out the transfer portal to see if we can add another one or two. I like where we’re at.”

NCAA Regionals

The four NCAA regionals are set to start Thursday, with their champions decided Saturday in two of them, while the other two will be Friday-Sunday. The four regional winners will advance to make up the Frozen Four, in two weeks at Saint Paul Xcel Energy Center.

The first game will be in the Springfield, Mass., regional where Denver will play Massachusetts in a game scheduled for 1 p.m. Central time, and will be followed by the second semifinal, between Maine and Cornell at 4:30. The Sioux Falls regional opens with Boston University facing RIT at 4 p.m. Central, followed by Minnesota meeting Omaha at 7:30 p.m. The arrangement of games should allow college hockey fans to see some, if not all, of every one of the eight regional games. The Friday games begin with the game between No, 1 overall seed Boston College taking on Michigan Tech at 1 p.m., at Providence, R.I., followed by the 4:30 p.m., game between Wisconsin and defending NCAA champion Quinnipiac in the Providence regional.

The fourth regional will be at Maryland Heights, Mo., in a comparatively small arena seating a maximum of 3,000. Those games feature Big Ten league and tournament champion Michigan State taking on Western Michigan from the NCHC at 4 p.m., followed by what should be a high-profile slugfest between NCHC champ North Dakota and Big Ten power Michigan, in a 7:30 p.m. game. In the selection process, the committee had to follow certain guidelines, such as avoiding same-conference match-ups in the first round, while also sending a No. 1, 2, 3, and 4 team to each location, and catering to the regional college designated as the host school at each regional site.

Such guidelines can lead to what appears to be illogical seedings, but there is merit to each placement. Denver, for example, would be more logical in Sioux Falls, but Omaha is the host school there, and the Pioneers were sent East where they rank as heavy favorites No. 1 seeda gainst a strong Massachusetts team — the host school at Springfield and No. 4 seed — while . No. 2 Maine and No. 3 Cornell will pose a competitive match in the second game. Same with Sioux Falls, where BU is the No. 1 seed, and faces a tenacious and skilled Rochester Institute of Technology outfit, the No. 4 seed. Minnesota wound up as No. 2 seed and faces No. 3 Omaha, which was one of the hottest teams in the NCHC through the final weeks and should be a challenging foe. In Providence, Michigan Tech, which outlasted Bemidji 2-1 to win the CCHA’s lone entry, will be the No. 4 seed and is in perfect position to sneak up on No. 1 Boston College — the consensus No.1 team in skill and depth in the country, and the tournament host in Providence.

In the second game at Providence, Quinnipiac has proven its merits, and will be No. 3 seed against No. 2 Wisconsin, a Badgers team now coached by Mike Hastings, who turned Minnesota State Mankato into a CCHA and national power in recent years. And while the NCAA seems to enjoy finding new and different venues for regional, Maryland Heights, Missouri, has a comparatively tiny arena for the Friday doubleheader that will reunite Big Ten rivals Michigan and Michigan State after last weekend’s 1-0 overtime verdict won by MSU.

The Spartans are the No. 1 seed in the regional, and will find a worthy foe in Western Michigan, which rose to prominence in the NCHC and is No. 4 seed as further incentive for an upset. In the second game at the Missouri location, North Dakota is No. 2 seed after winning the proud NCHC league championship, and faces a very skilled and speedy Michigan team that underachieved for much of the season, but came on strong at the end, and will not flinch at being the No. 3 seed. Sandelin agreed that the field appears to be wide open this year, although he thinks Boston College’s strength stands out. Unless the Eagles blow through the regional, and then win two more at Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, the next NCAA champion will be a surprise to all.

Cherry picking

Everybody in Northern Minnesota was pulling for Cherry to win the state basketball tournament’s Class A title, and it happened — thanks to the Asuma family’s contribution. Senior guard Isaac Asuma, his sophomore brother Isiah, and their sophomore cousin Noah Asuma combined to total 40 points. That was sufficient to match the total output of Fertile-Beltrami and lead Cherry, the tiny Iron Range city, to a 78-40 final score. Isaac Asuma and his always-present smile will be lighting up Williams Arena for the Gophers next year.