Minnesota Duluth senior goaltender Hunter Shepard made 826 saves over 34 games in 2019-20, including 615 in 24 league contests.
And no save encapsulates the mindset of Shepard more than his most memorable stop — a diving stick save at the end of the second period against Nebraska-Omaha on Feb. 8 at Amsoil Arena that led to a game-winning breakaway goal by sophomore wing Tanner Laderoute.
For Shepard, that was just another save, like the other 825 he made this year.
“He’s just so cool, calm all the time,” Laderoute said of Shepard this season on the Bulldog Insider Podcast when describing the insanity of the play. “And crazy things like that happen all the time. You’d ask him about a save or something and he just brushes it off. (That save) shows how amazing he is in the net. And those saves, he’ll say, ‘I’ll just keep making them.’ It’s great to see and great to have him there.”
Shepard’s incredible save and Laderoute’s backhander unjustly finished as the runner-up in fan voting Tuesday for NCHC Play of the Year, but one half of that dynamic play-making duo did receive a decent consolation prize on Tuesday as Shepard was named NCHC Goaltender of the Year for the second-consecutive season.
Junior defenseman Scott Perunovich also picked up another award Tuesday, winning his third-consecutive Offensive Defenseman of the Year honor.
The first defenseman to ever win the NCHC scoring title, Perunovich posted a league-leading 28 assists and 32 points in 24 NCHC games this year to land on the All-NCHC first team last week along with Shepard. A Hibbing native, Perunovich is also up for NCHC Player of the Year, which will be announced Thursday.
“Yeah, he’s got the skill, but he’s a competitor just like the rest of us,” Shepard said of Perunovich, who is also a top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award. “Playing against him, I can’t imagine it would be very fun. He’s one of those guys when you go into battle, you want him on your side for sure.”
Perunovich is the first in the NCHC’s short seven-season history to win a year-end individual award three times while Shepard joins Denver’s Tanner Jaillet (2017 and 2018) as a back-to-back goaltender of the year honoree.
Shepard posted a .923 save percentage and 2.13 goals against average in 2019-20 that ranked tops among NCHC goaltenders who played at least half of their team’s league games this season. The only goaltender in the NCHC to start and finish all 24 league contests, the 17 wins by the Cohasset native also led all NCHC goaltenders in conference play.
“Partially it’s a team award, partially it’s consistency,” Shepard said Tuesday. “You don’t win 17 out of 24 games in this conference without being consistent and not giving up a lot most of the time. It’s a huge credit to the team in front of me and also me just trying to be on my game every Friday and Saturday.”
In addition to holding UMD career goaltender records for shutouts (17) and victories (76), Shepard leaves the college ranks with the NCAA record for consecutive starts by a goaltender. He started 115-straight games dating back to Oct. 21, 2017.
Had this year’s NCHC and NCAA tournaments not been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and had UMD reached the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and a fourth-straight NCAA Frozen Four, Shepard could have also tied the NCAA record for consecutive appearances by a goaltender. Clarkson’s Dan Murphy made 122 appearances in net between 1994-1998. That record would have fallen had UMD reached a fourth-straight national championship game in 2019-20.
“He grabbed the net two and a half years ago and has never given it up,” Sandelin said earlier this season. “He’s been a big reason we’ve had success.”
Senior defenseman Nick Wolff, who along with Shepard was credited with an assist on that memorable Feb. 8 breakaway goal by Laderoute, was a finalist for the other award handed out Tuesday — Defensive Defenseman of the Year. The league-leader in blocked shots with 58, Wolff lost out to North Dakota senior defenseman Colton Poolman.
On Monday, junior wing Kobe Roth won the NCHC Sportsmanship Award while Perunovich shared the Three Stars Award with North Dakota junior forward Jordan Kawaguchi.
This year’s NCHC awards, like every other season, were originally scheduled to be handed out during a show on March 19 in St. Paul as part of the Frozen Faceoff. That event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The winners of this year’s awards are being announced throughout the week. A full schedule and list of nominees can be found below, as well as the winners thus far.
Awards schedule and nominees
Forward of the Year (Noah Cates, So., Minnesota Duluth; Jordan Kawaguchi, Jr., North Dakota; Emilio Pettersen, So., Denver)
Defensive Forward of the Year (Justin Richards, Jr., Minnesota Duluth; Cole Smith, Sr., North Dakota; Paul Washe, Jr., Western Michigan)
Rookie of the Year (Bobby Brink, F, Denver; Shane Pinto, F, North Dakota; Nolan Sullivan, F, Omaha)
Player of the Year (Jack Ahcan, Sr., D, St. Cloud State; Jordan Kawaguchi, Jr., F, North Dakota; Scott Perunovich, Jr., D, Minnesota Duluth)
Herb Brooks Coach of the Year (Brad Berry, North Dakota; Andy Murray, Western Michigan; Scott Sandelin, Minnesota Duluth)
Senior Scholar-Athlete (Karch Bachman, F, Miami; Zach Jordan, F, Omaha; Colton Poolman, D, North Dakota)
Sportsmanship Award: Kobe Roth, Jr., F, Minnesota Duluth
Three Stars Award: Scott Perunovich, Jr., D, Minnesota Duluth/Jordan Kawaguchi, Jr., F, North Dakota
Media Excellence Award: Dave Starman, CBS Sports Network
Offensive Defenseman of the Year: Perunovich, Jr., Minnesota Duluth
Defensive Defenseman of the Year: Colton Poolman, Sr., North Dakota
Goaltender of the Year: Hunter Shepard, Sr., Minnesota Duluth
This story was updated at 2:54 p.m. March 24 with comments from Hunter Shepard and additional information. It was originally posted at 2:08 p.m. March 24.