Making Hunter Shepard: the UMD goaltender quietly writing his name into history books

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Duluth, MN – Three weeks into the 2017-2018 season, Hunter Shepard seized control of the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) men’s hockey goal-tending job.

Since winning a national championship in his first season between the pipes, Shepard earned the 2018-2019 National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Goaltender of the Year Award, and is one of ten finalists for the Mike Richter Award.

The team’s national success has directly coincided with Shepard’s success, and he’s been at the top of his game for the better part of two consecutive seasons.

“He’s our backbone for us all year,” said senior captain Parker Mackay. “I honestly think he’s our most valuable player, and I think that it’s pretty obvious why.”

His 1.92 goals against average is the best in the NCHC, almost identical (1.91) to his mark in the 2017-2018 season. If you’re a believer in goaltender wins, he also leads the conference with 23, which is second in the entire country.

His most impressive stat however, may be his level of consistency.

In 38 collegiate games this season, he allowed more than three goals just six times. Three of them games were against top ranked St. Cloud State.

“We’ve had nights where I haven’t been my best, and the guys in front of me have picked me up,” said Shepard.

“And we’ve had nights where maybe they haven’t been their best and I’ve had to weather the storm back there,”

“But I mean that’s a part of the team. We don’t have a lot of nights like that where one of us is off, or both of us are off, so it’s been a good combination for us the last two years.”

In the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game, Shepard made several highlight reel saves to keep UMD afloat in a double overtime dogfight with St. Cloud State.

After his overtime save on Nolan Walker, Shepard appeared a bit hobbled, but later assured that he will be just fine moving forward into the NCAA tournament.

“I was just cramping up, it was getting hot out there with all the people. Even after the first period I was sweating more than I like to,” said Shepard.

“It was a long game, especially on back to back nights like that with an extra period and a half on the back end was tough.”

Sophomore Lakeville, MN native Nick Swaney later scored the game winning goal to secure UMD’s second Frozen Faceoff Championship.

In the wake of defending the program’s second national title, head coach Scott Sandelin has made no qualms about where he ranks his current starter among UMD greats.

“Right at the top, I mean obviously he’s won a national championship for us.”

Sandelin never says much to Shepard, leaving most of the work to his volunteer assistant coach Brant Nicklin.

“I just leave him alone, you know. We talk about hunting and stuff like that, and that’s about it,” said Sandelin.

He’s a mental stronghold that doesn’t flinch under pressure. Nicklin says his aggression is what makes his on-ice different than his persona off the ice.

“He’s strong in the net and can move around with a lot of speed. Calming him down so he doesn’t over-play pucks has been a very strong focus of ours over the past few years,” said Nicklin.

Behind Shepard’s competitive demeanor in the crease, is a calm, even-keeled Minnesotan majoring in Marketing. He’s relatively quiet around local media, and isn’t overly vocal in the locker room either.

“He doesn’t say a lot. He says a lot on the ice, but in the locker room when he does speak up, he’s one of those guys you listen to because he doesn’t say too much,” said Sandelin. “He’s got meaningful comments and he’s a leader on our team.”

Nicklin doesn’t do much scolding in practice, and emphasized how hard reserve goaltenders Nick Deery, Andrew Dietrich, and Ben Patt push him.

BRANT NICKLIN ON HUNTER SHEPARD-

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With four potential games remaining, the Cohasset native will hold down UMD’s back end on their road to defending a national title.

Matt Halverson

Matt Halverson

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