THE HOWIE BLOG
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BREAKING LOCAL NEWSIt’s likely that rookie defenseman Derek Forbort of Duluth has made the Los Angeles
Kings’ 2015-16 opening-day regular season roster, according to this report … UnitedHealth will hire 140 customer service representatives in Duluth, the StarTribune.com is reporting … UW-Superior has been ranked the top online school in Wisconsin.
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DULUTH PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Supreme Court to hold oral arguments Thursday at Duluth Denfeld
The Minnesota Supreme Court, the state’s highest court, will convene at Duluth Denfeld High School on Thursday morning to hear oral arguments in a real court case in front of hundreds of high school students from across the region. The program seeks to teach students about the court system and build the public’s trust and confidence in the Judicial Branch.
“Our court system is one of the first promises of our state’s Constitution, and it is important for students and citizens to understand the judiciary and the role our courts play in protecting people’s rights and preserving the rule of law,” said Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea. “Visiting communities around the state and giving students an inside look at their court system is one of the most important ways the Supreme Court works to build that understanding. We look forward to our upcoming visit to Duluth, and the opportunity to talk to members of the community and students about their justice system.”
Welinski, Bulldogs set
lofty goals for 2015-16
Bulldogs defenseman Andy Welinski faced a challenging personal hockey decision this summer, whether to accept an entry-level professional contract offer from the Anaheim Ducks or to return to Minnesota Duluth for his senior season.
“At the end of the day I couldn’t come up with a solid reason not to stay,” said Welinski, a Duluth East grad and Anaheim Ducks’ third-round draft pick (83rd selection overall) in the 2011 National Hockey League Entry Draft. “You’re only in college once. I’m happy with the decision and happy to be here.”
The Bulldogs, who return 21 of 25 players from a 2015 NCAA Northeast Regional finalist team, defeated Lakehead University 6-1 in a preseason exhibition game Sunday night at Amsoil Arena.
“Everyone is excited to get it going and start to put the pieces of the puzzle together,” said Welinski, a 2015-16 team captain along with fellow seniors Tony Cameranesi, Austin Farley and Cal Decowski.
Welinski said he’s growing into his leadership role as captain and plans to lead mostly by his play on the ice.
“Defense is the most important part, it’s my position,” said Welinski, a preseason All-NCHC selection and All-American candidate who had nine goals and 21 points while appearing in all 40 games a year ago. “While my offensive numbers have slightly increased over the last three years, I’ve watched enough hockey to know that you have to play defense first. There’s not a single guy in the NHL that can’t play defense.”
Welinski, who has led all Bulldogs defensemen in scoring three straight years, has matured and did an outstanding job leading his teammates in captains’ practices during the off-season, Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said.
“It’s an older team. We didn’t have a lot of losses last year, (although) we lost some key character and leadership guys. But we replaced them with some freshman that I think can help out in the long run — and also we have some guys that have been here and we’re kind of expecting to step up. I like our depth at every position, and on paper I like our team a lot. But we’ve got a lot of work to do to get to the end result, which is hopefully that goal of winning the league championship and going father.”
On the Bulldogs’ high preseason rankings: “I told our captains on Monday before media day that there’s a good chance that they’re going to be picked to win the league. I came back and told our team Friday that it doesn’t change anything. It shouldn’t change their approach, and if anything it should motivate them a little bit. Are we willing to push to get better and deal with some of the adversities during the year that we’ll have? That’s where hopefully the maturity and leadership of our group can help in those tough times, as we go through them.”
Sandelin on his freshman class, which includes forwards Adam Johnson, Parker Mackay and Billy Exell, defenseman Neal Pionk and goaltender Nick Deery: “We don’t have a lot of ‘em, but I like the fact that they’ve all played two or three years of junior hockey so they’re coming in here a little bit older, a little more polished from playing the number of games. And being successful where they’ve been, too.
“You look at Adam Johnson, who had two real good years scoring wise, was second in (USHL) league scoring last year. Pionk was defenseman of the year in the USHL. Those two guys, right off the bat, have a chance to make an immediate impact. I really like what I’ve seen out of Mackay and Exell. Billy won a championship with the Wilderness, has great speed and can play a role for us. And Parker was captain of his team for two years.
“Deery, the freshman goalie, is probably our third guy behind Kas (Kasimir Kaskisuo) and Matt (McNeely), but he was goalie of the year in Manitoba. We like the pieces, but I think to start you’ll probably see Johnson and Pionk — and Pionk is probably in the best position to make the immediate impact.”
Sandelin on the Lakehead exhibition: “No one is in great shape to play three periods. I don’t want guys to overthink it on Sunday.”
Sandelin’s on his expectation of junior forward Dominic Toninato: “To have a consistently good year like he did the first half. I thought his first half was outstanding for us, with 13 goals, and the second half before the injury he wasn’t playing at the same level and doing the things that he did in the first half. Sometimes that happens, guys think it’s going to come easier. He’s the type of player who needs to get to the tough areas, be good around the net and score those garbage goals, if you will, tips and rebounds. He needs to be more consistent, and he’s capable of it.”
Duluth News Tribune ‘Dog’s beat writer Matt Wellens and local hockey authority Jerry Borough are bullish on UMD having another strong season, based on the large number of veterans the team has returning, including Welinski, and assuming Kaskisuo will at least duplicate an impressive freshman season.
“I had UMD No. 1 in the NCHC and USCHO preseason polls,” said the personable Wellens. “UMD has tremendous potential, with so many top players returning. Any time you have a great goalie like Kaskisuo, you’re in a good position to not only win your league but to possibly make a good run in the playoffs. Freshmen (Adam) Johnson and (Neal) Pionk should help, and Welinski should fill the leadership void.”
Said Borough: “This is a very deep UMD team, and well deserving of its No. 1 NSHC ranking in the preseason. Welinski and Kaskisuo are All-American candidates. I expect Cameranesi to have a big senior season. The Bulldogs can’t have injuries to their key players, and they will need to give their younger players some playing time early in the season to prepare them for the second half. If Kaskisuo plays as solid as he did a year ago, they should win the league. The league, from top to bottom, will again be the best in college hockey – with no easy games or weekends. If Omaha can find some goaltending, they could be right up there in the hunt for a league title along with North Dakota and St. Cloud.”
Kaskisuo might consider a career as a comedian after he makes his final professional save.
When asked what holes he would like to plug in his game this season, Kaskisuo, a native of Finland, fired back without pause, “All the goals I let in last season.”
Seriously, Kaskisuo isn’t worried about a sophomore slump after starting 31 of 36 games last season and being named to the NCHA All-Rookie Team.
“I’m more comfortable, stronger and in better shape this season,” he said. “I need to step it up this year and continue to adjust to the faster pace in college hockey.”
Kaskisuo said he felt the Bulldogs had a chance to win the NCAA national championship last season and can take the next step in the playoffs in 2015-16.
“Why not the NCAA title this year?” said Kas. “To me, it feels like we have an even stronger team than a year ago. We have our best players back and the freshman that are coming in are impact players.”