The no.1 seed in the Fargo Regionals and top-ranked NCAA men’s hockey program in the United States, playing on home ice – fell in historic fashion – a quintuple overtime loss to the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
The unexpected loss means Fighting Hawks centre Shane Pinto and defensemen Jacob Bernard-Docker, Tyler Kleven, Jake Sanderson all have important decisions to make in the coming days – whether to remain in school and make another run in hopes of reaching the NCAA Frozen Four or to begin their pro hockey careers with the organization that drafted them, the Ottawa Senators.
It’s believed Kleven, a 19-year old robust, hard-nosed defender will return for his sophomore campaign. While Bernard-Docker, Pinto and Sanderson are all on the clock.
It’s been long-rumoured Bernard-Docker and Pinto were poised to leave UND whenever their season concluded. As for Sanderson, it’s anyone’s guess. The 18-year old was arguably the best player on the ice in UND’s five overtime thriller. Sanderson’s fluid skating style was on full display Saturday, and one has to wonder how much he has to give to the program?
Having played only one season at UND, the Senators’ 2020 fifth overall selection still has room to grow. Named to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference All-Rookie team on the blue line, Sanderson can continue to hone his offensive game. Sanderson compiled two goals, 13 assists in 22 games, and added two assists in seven games for Team USA, winning Gold at the 2021 World Junior tournament. With a year of eligibility remaining, the Montana native can once again compete in the U20 World Championship for his home country if he so chooses to remain in school.
At six-foot-one, 185 pounds, Sanderson is similar in stature and ability to Colorado Avalanche d-man Cale Makar. Makar returned for a second campaign at UMass-Amherst prior to turning pro – earning Hobey Baker Award honours as the top player in NCAA prior to taking home the NHL’s Calder Trophy last season as the league’s best rookie.
Jake Sanderson may wish to follow Makar’s path to the NHL.
The situations for Bernard-Docker and Pinto are slightly different. Both players are 20-years old, turning 21 later this year. There are no World Junior tournaments in the offing for the pair, and neither were eligible to play in this past tourney. Their only incentive is to help the Fighting Hawks chase a title, something they decided to do this season.
Named the NCHC’s best defensive defenseman, Bernard-Docker’s ability to play a shut-down role on the right side potentially fills a need the Senators are seeking.
The right side of the team’s defense depth chart currently consists of Nikita Zaitsev, Artem Zub, Erik Gudbranson, Josh Brown. And there’s no doubt, the reliable Bernard-Docker can fit in seamlessly with this group.
The possibility also remains, Gudbranson may dealt at the April 12 trade deadline as he’s a pending unrestricted free agent – which opens an immediate spot for the Senators’ 26th overall 2018 draft pick.
General Manager Pierre Dorion’s number one priority this off-season is to find a partner to skate along-side Thomas Chabot. In time Jacob Bernard-Docker may be that player, possibly sooner than later.
An all-around player Shane Pinto is already the NCHC’s top player in only his sophomore season. Pinto and Wisconsin forward Cole Caufield are favourites to earn Hobey Baker honours.
The list of accolades for the Long Island, NY resident is lengthy. Along with being a Baker nominee, the Senators 2019 32nd overall pick led the NCHC in goals (15), power play points (14), faceoff percentage (61.9%), tied for first with seven PP markers, finished fifth in assists (17).
The centre also earned awards as the top player on in the Conference, the best defensive forward, best forward overall and First Team All-Star.
The only question is where does Pinto fit on the Senators’ roster? Pinto plays a style similar to Jean-Gabriel Pageau, but carries a larger six-foot-three,194-pound frame. He plays on both special team units, and has the ability to move up and down the lineup based on the feel of the game.
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The ultimate decision to leave school isn’t an easy one. Josh Norris and Brady Tkachuk each went through the process prior to signing contracts.
Norris left the University of Michigan after suffering a shoulder injury during the 2018-19 season which saw him compile 19 points in 17 games.
“It was a really tough decision for me. It was a little bit different in my case because I had the injury. It was little bit more uncertain if I should come out. You know I actually talked to some other guys yesterday not as specific about leaving or going back to school thing,” said the former Wolverine Monday.
“It’s a tough decision for these kids. You try not to overthink it, but they all really want to make the right decisions. Sometimes that’s hard. At the end of the day, they’ll know what’s right for them. They’re surrounded by a really good support group. It’s exciting for sure to make the right decision.”
“You’re going to get probably different viewpoints from people that think differently from you. At the end of the day, you have to know yourself. At least they can take into account all the information they got from other people to make a decision. For me, I sat on it a little bit. I didn’t really make my mind up right away. It was probably a few weeks. My dad (Dwayne) really encouraged me to do that. At the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for yourself.”
Brady Tkachuk concurs, “It’s your life. It’s probably the biggest decision you have to make of what you want to do. There’s no bad decision if you feel like you’re ready for this level and you’re confident in yourself. It seems like from talking to them (Bernard-Docker and Pinto) once in a while going back to development camp, they’re confident guys. They’re unbelievable players. They’re going to be great players for our future.”
One Senators’ prospect, forward Angus Crookshank recently made the jump to the pro game. Crookshank joined the club after a successful three-year stint at the University of New Hampshire. Inking a deal that starts only next season, the British Columbia native signed an amateur try-out to play the remainder of this one with Belleville.