Former Minnesota Duluth and Grand Rapids goaltender Hunter Shepard is joining the Washington Capitals organization, announcing Wednesday he is signing an American Hockey League contract with the Hershey Bears.
An undrafted free agent, Shepard is coming off a historic college career with the Bulldogs that includes back-to-back national championships and an NCAA-record 115-straight starts by a goaltender dating back to Oct. 21, 2017.
A pandemic proved to be the only thing that could get the Cohasset native out of the net and derail his run of NCAA titles. Shepard leaves the college ranks as one of the great goaltenders in NCAA tournament history, posting an 8-0 record with a .953 save percentage and 0.97 goals against average. He gave up just a single goal in two NCAA championship wins.
A co-captain for the Bulldogs during a season that was halted before the postseason began because of COVID-19, Shepard posted a .918 save percentage and 2.18 goals against average while starting all 34 games as a senior. He was named NCHC Goaltender of the Year for the second consecutive season, a second-team All-American (after being a first-teamer in 2018-19) and a semifinalist for the Mike Richter Award as national goaltender of the year after being a finalist the year before.
Shepard — who before coming to UMD won the Frank Brimsek Award with Grand Rapids as the top senior goaltender in Minnesota — is the fifth member of the 2019-20 Bulldogs to sign or agree to a professional contract since the season was ended prematurely, with the other four all being NHL deals.
Senior defenseman Nick Wolff signed with the Boston Bruins as a free agent, as did junior center Justin Richards with the New York Rangers. Junior defenseman Dylan Samberg, a 2017 second round pick out of Hermantown, signed with the Winnipeg Jets, while fellow junior blue liner Scott Perunovich, the Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner from Hibbing, agreed to terms with the St. Louis Blues.
A 2018 second-rounder, Perunovich is the only one who is possibly eligible to play in the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs having agreed to two different deals with the Blues — one that begins right away if the 2019-20 NHL season resumes and another that begins in 2020-21 if the season does not. According to The Athletic, the Blues are waiting to see if the NHL will allow players like Perunovich to sign for 2019-20.