By Matt Wellens
DULUTH — As Minnesota Duluth closes out October with one more nonconference series — a national championship rematch at Notre Dame on Friday and Saturday — before the start of NCHC play next week, it appears coach Scott Sandelin has for the moment settled on a lineup.
The one spot still up for grabs, however, is the fourth-line center role. There, junior Jade Miller and freshman Jesse Jacques have alternated over the past two weekends at Michigan Tech and at home against Maine.
Jacques, the Hermantown native, has been in the lineup centering wingers Kobe Roth and Billy Exell the past two Fridays. Miller has been slotted in the past two Saturdays.
Sandelin said both have done well when inserted into the lineup, and what impresses the coach even more is their work ethic the following week in practice whether they played or not.
“We’ve got Jesse in the two games he’s played so far and he’s certainly done a really good job. Jade has gone in there and done a good job,” Sandelin said. “That’s why we’re going to continue to rotate them. Actually, they are rotating every day in practice, too, so they get some time with the line. We’ll continue that as long as we have to. They both have earned it.”
Miller is, obviously, the more experienced centerman. After playing as a wing during his freshman season, he was moved to center a year ago and played there in 36 of the 38 games he suited up in. On the fourth line between Roth and Exell was where the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Miller was slotted during the NCAA tournament run, including the 2-1 victory over the Fighting Irish in the Frozen Four final at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jacques was a very late addition to the Bulldogs’ 2018-19 roster, being brought on in August after incoming freshman Charlie Dovorany of Wausau, Wis., was forced to retire due to injury. A 60-plus point scorer as a senior on Hermantown’s 2016-17 Class A state championship team, Jacques was uncommitted after a season with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League until UMD came calling.
Sandelin — whose son, Ryan, was also a senior on the 2016-17 Hawks, along with Dylan Samberg — said Jacques has the ability to make plays, and those chances will start to come as he gets in more games.
What the coach really likes about Jacques is the physical presence of the 6-1, 195-pound freshman, as well as his play defensively.
“He’s learning. I like the physicality in his game,” Sandelin said. “The biggest thing I told him as a center is make sure defensively you’re trying to be as responsible as you can. That’s something that as you move up from high school to junior to even college, it’s a big responsibility to play in the middle of the rink. Be good there, and I thought he’s done a pretty good job there.”
• In addition to being a rematch of the 2018 NCAA championship game, this weekend’s series in South Bend, Ind., pits the two leading scorers in the nation. Bulldogs sophomore defenseman Scott Perunovich has 10 points via a goal and nine assists in six games. Irish senior defenseman Bobby Nardella has 10 points via three goals and seven assists in four games. The country’s leading goal scorer also will be in South Bend — Irish junior forward Cal Burke. He has five goals and four assists in four games for a Notre Dame team that is averaging 5.25 goals per game after its first two series.
• Over the next three weekends, starting Friday and Saturday against the Bulldogs, the Irish will play three straight series against the other three programs from the 2018 Frozen Four. Notre Dame hosts Ohio State to open Big Ten play next week, followed by a trip to Michigan for a rematch of their 2018 national semifinal.
• After a bye the weekend of Nov. 2-3, the Bulldogs open NCHC play at home against Colorado College. They have two more nonconference games against Minnesota State-Mankato and either Clarkson or Arizona State at the Desert Hockey Classic Dec. 28-29 in Tempe, Ariz.
Matt Wellens (@mattwellens) can be reached at email@example.com or (218) 723-5317.