By Matt Wellens
DULUTH — Off to his best offensive start in his four seasons at Minnesota Duluth, senior wing Parker Mackay is on track for a career season with the Bulldogs.
Mackay’s six goals and 11 points through 10 games are double (or more) of what he’s posted in the first 10 games of any previous season, but those aren’t the numbers that stand out the most to the UMD captain.
“It’s been good. It’s always nice when points can come, but the most important thing is we’re 8-1-1 right now and ranked first in the country,” said Mackay, whose previous collegiate highs through 10 games were the three goals he scored in both his freshman and sophomore years, and the five points he had a year ago. “If I’m able to help us do that and put wins on the board, then I’ll take it by all means.”
Mackay’s team-success-first mentality is why coach Scott Sandelin is again in love with the guy wearing the ‘C’ for his No. 1-ranked Bulldogs, who travel this weekend to play No. 7 Denver (5-2-1) in NCHC play at 8:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Mackay was an assistant captain a year ago under senior wing and captain Karson Kuhlman during the Bulldogs’ run to a national championship. While the captains put up some points — Mackay totaled collegiate highs of nine goals and 10 assists — it was their leadership that shined through.
This year Mackay’s leadership traits have been forced to share the spotlight with his offensive abilities in the first 10 games. Mackay’s six goals lead UMD and his 11 points are second to sophomore defenseman Scott Perunovich, who has 14 points on one goal and 13 assists.
Sandelin said Mackay’s fast start is a reward for all his hard work.
“To me, the points are a bonus, because he brings a lot of other things,” Sandelin said. “He epitomizes our team, he works hard, has a lot of character, he doesn’t take a shift off. That’s good to have in your captain, much like our captain last year and every year before that. We’ve been pretty lucky to have that.”
Like his leadership, Mackay’s offensive output has been consistent through the first five weekends of 2018-19. Last weekend in the NCHC-opening home sweep of Colorado College, Mackay finished with two goals and an assist for his third three-point series of the season.
Bulldogs sophomore center Justin Richards, a linemate of Mackay’s along with freshman wing Cole Koepke, was the beneficiary of a Mackay assist a week ago. Mackay made his way to the side of the net on the play and backhanded a pass right to Richards for an easy one-timer.
The play was a great example of Mackay’s hockey IQ, Richards said.
“He’s a very intelligent player and knows exactly where to be,” Richards said. “He’s just been great at the start of the season so far. He’s our captain, he’s doing exactly what Karson did last year. It’s great to see, and I know for sure he is going to continue.”
Richards and Mackay combined for four goals last weekend while Koepke picked up a pair of assists. Richards said their line had a good offensive series against the Tigers because they forechecked hard to create a lot of time and space to work.
Sandelin said that time and space won’t be there this weekend against the Pioneers, who are a strong team down low. Denver does a good job outnumbering teams in battles for the puck, meaning the Bulldogs will need to do a better job of moving their feet, supporting teammates and getting the puck out of small areas when they can.
“They come hard, they get after you,” Sandelin said. “Their in-zone forecheck and the way they get above you and their stick pressure and back pressure, they kind of smother you when you have the puck, especially coming out of your zone. I told our guys (this week) if we don’t come out of there clean or just make simple plays, if we’re waiting and thinking about what play we have to make, we’re going to be in our zone a long time.”
NO. 1 UMD (8-1-1) AT NO. 7 DENVER (5-2-1)
What: NCHC series
When: 8:07 p.m. Friday/Saturday
Where: Magness Arena
Radio: KDAL-AM 610/KDAL-FM 103.9
Internet: nchc.tv (video)
Matt Wellens (@mattwellens) can be reached at email@example.com or (218) 723-5317.