DULUTH -- Grand Rapids, Minn., native Zach Stejskal is heading back to juniors for one more season before coming to Minnesota Duluth, so instead Ryan Fanti of Thunder Bay, Ontario, is being brought in to help back up senior goaltender Hunter Shepard as the Bulldogs go after a third consecutive national championship in 2019-20.
Fanti, who announced his commitment to UMD on Tuesday morning, May 21, via Twitter, spent the previous two seasons just down the interstate in Cloquet backstopping the Minnesota Wilderness in the North American Hockey League.
The 19-year-old Fanti, who turns 20 in October, posted a .917 save percentage and 2.70 goals-against average in 39 games with the Wilderness last season. During the 2017-18 regular season, he finished with a .922 save percentage and 2.60 GAA.
Stejskal, a 2017 graduate of Grand Rapids who turns 20 in December, spent last season in the NAHL with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights where he finished with a .935 save percentage and 2.47 GAA in 48 regular-season games. He signed a national letter of intent in the fall to play for UMD in 2019-20, but has since faced academic issues, according to UMD coach Scott Sandelin.
The former Thunderhawks goalie went 10th overall this spring to the Youngstown Phantoms in the United States Hockey League entry draft and likely will see more playing time there than with the Bulldogs, who return Shepard, a former Thunderhawk himself and now two-time NCAA champion.
Fanti will be one of five Wilderness alumni on the roster next season along with forwards Cole Koepke, Koby Bender and Kobe Roth and defenseman Louie Roehl.
Fanti will battle third-year goaltender Benjamin Patt for the No. 2 spot. Patt has been UMD’s third-stringer the last two seasons behind Shepard and the now-graduated Nick Deery, though Patt missed all of last season with a shoulder injury.
Perunovich, Richards returning
Sandelin said UMD’s last two early departure question marks — sophomore defenseman Scott Perunovich and sophomore center Justin Richards — are both planning to come back for their junior seasons next fall, so barring any late changes of heart, the Bulldogs are on track to return four of their five centers from last year and five of their six regular defensemen from the last two seasons.
Perunovich is a 2018 second-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues. Richards is an undrafted free agent who reportedly drew interest from at least a few NHL teams this spring.
In the month after beating Massachusetts for the NCAA title in Buffalo, N.Y., UMD lost two players early to the NHL. Sophomore defenseman Mikey Anderson signed with the Los Angeles Kings and junior wing Riley Tufte signed with the Dallas Stars. Both were draft picks with the Stars taking Tufte in the first round in 2016.
So is the 2019-20 roster set?
Not quite, the coach said last week.
For one, it’s not uncommon for an underclassman or two to indicate they are returning to college, only to receive an offer they can’t refuse over the summer, often while attending an NHL team development camp.
That happened with Hibbing native Adam Johnson, who planned on returning for his junior season in 2017-18, until the Pittsburgh Penguins convinced the undrafted free agent to sign after attending their development camp.
The three-time national championship coach said he’s prepared for that, just in case.
Whatever happens during what Sandelin now calls the “third season,” he said UMD would like to bring in one more forward to give the Bulldogs 15 forwards, eight defensemen and three goaltenders next season.
UMD already has three forwards signed to letters of intent in Devlin McCabe of the Sioux City Musketeers (USHL), Quinn Olson of the Okotoks Oilers (Alberta Junior Hockey League) and Penticton Vees (British Columbia Hockey League) wing Luke Loheit, who is a 2018 Ottawa Senators draft pick. Springfield Junior Blues (NAHL) winger Brandon Puricelli, who has turned 21, is also committed to UMD for next year.
UMD has found some diamonds in the rough late in the recruiting game the last few years. Outgoing senior wing Billy Exell came to UMD from the Wilderness in June 2015 while Hermantown native Jesse Jacques, a freshman center last year, signed with UMD in August after incoming freshman center Charlie Dovorany had to retire due to injuries.