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UMD men's hockey: Bulldogs excited for crowded exhibition against Badgers in Chippewa Falls

The 918 tickets made available never made it to online sales as they sold out in Chippewa Falls in 17 minutes.

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Minnesota Duluth's Koby Bender (11) controls the puck near Wisconsin's Alex Turcotte (15) during an Oct. 2019 game at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin. The Bulldogs and Badgers will meet in an exhibition game Sunday in Chippewa Falls. (Clint Austin / File / caustin@duluthnews.com)
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Minnesota Duluth opened last season 532 miles from home inside an empty 7,898-seat arena in Omaha, Nebraska. That first puck drop was delayed by two months as well, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic continues, but the Bulldogs find themselves playing their first game — an exhibition — under much different circumstances only 144 miles from home and five days earlier than they originally anticipated thanks to an NCAA waiver .

The Bulldogs will play Wisconsin at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Chippewa Area Ice Arena in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and the building will be far from empty. Home to the North American Hockey League’s Chippewa Steel and Chippewa Youth Hockey Association, the 918 tickets made available for the game sold out in a reported 17 minutes .

True-senior wing Tanner Laderoute described the feeling of playing this week as “pure excitement” compared to the way last year started for UMD.

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“Just like all of you know, last year we had to play against each other for what felt like a year — months and months before our first game finally came,” Laderoute said. “We're super excited to go play in a small barn. It's going to sound loud as can be.”

Originally set up as a scripted scrimmage at a neutral site close to halfway between Amsoil Arena and the Kohl Center — the Badgers have to travel an extra 47 miles Sunday — that would feature built in time for power plays, penalty kills, 4-on-4, 3-on-3 and a shootout, the NCAA shot down that idea and now the exhibition will be played like a traditional game.

While the NCAA ruling was disappointing to Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin — who added they are hoping to change that rule in the proposal to make the exhibition waiver for 2021-22 permanent — the players said they’re more excited to play a real exhibition against a Badgers team that swept them in Oct. 2019 in Madison.

Playing an exhibition against another NCAA team instead of against a Canadian university will be different as well, said UMD fifth-year senior wing Koby Bender.

“I’m excited to get another shot at them,” said Bender, the Cloquet native who won’t be around when Wisconsin comes to Amsoil next season. “They kind of took it to us when we went there last time.”

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Chippewa Falls Youth Hockey vice president Steve Gibbs told The Chippewa Herald this week , “there’s a lot of excitement up here” for the exhibition game. Volunteers have stepped up provide security and help clean the venue. Sponsors have helped cover the costs and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle is being given away, as 100 percent of the proceeds from the exhibition are going toward an endowment fund that helps kids in the Chippewa Falls area play hockey.

“It's just fun there'll be people there,” Sandelin said. “It's great to have that excitement, it’s great we can kind of meet in the middle and we found a place to play. Just reading, they’re doing a great job to promote it. I think it'll be a great atmosphere for our players. It's a small rink, but with people in there, it should be fun. We're all looking forward to it.”

UMD will be without sophomore wing Luke Mylymok not only for Sunday’s exhibition, but for “a long time … unfortunately,” said Sandelin, who didn’t disclose the nature of the injury. Mylymok was the one who sent the Bulldogs to the NCAA Frozen Four a year ago, scoring on a breakaway 2:13 into the fifth overtime for a 3-2 win over North Dakota in the Fargo regional final.

Sandelin said he hasn’t settled on a structure to his lineup yet for Sunday’s game, but there will likely be tweaks throughout. The only thing he knows is the three goaltenders — sophomore Zach Stejskal, junior Ryan Fanti and redshirt senior Ben Patt — will each play a period.

“It was great that (this game) came about in a short period of time,” said Sandelin, whose team opens the regular season with a home-and-home next weekend against Bemidji State . “We get to see our team, we get to see our young guys get some college experience against a good team. It’s a starting point, and it’s a nice thing to have before we play Bemidji next weekend.”

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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