After what Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin called an “OK” start for sophomore goaltender Ryan Fanti on Friday in the 4-3 loss to St. Cloud State, freshman netminder Zach Stejskal made just his second start as a Bulldog on Saturday in the 1-0 overtime loss to the Huskies at Amsoil Arena.

Stejskal, the 21-year-old from Cohasset, made 20 straight saves until junior defenseman Nick Perbix beat him on the Huskies’ 21st shot on goal, which came 3:58 into the 3-on-3 overtime period.

Sandelin said Stejskal had a strong game, one he can build on for the future.

“I thought for not having played for a while, he played well,” Sandelin said. “That’s good for us, too. Overall, I was pleased with his game. I just felt bad for him at the end, too, because he probably deserved a little better.”

From left: 
Minnesota Duluth defenseman Matt Cairns (22), goaltender Zach Stejskal (35) and defenseman Darian Gotz (2) defend their net in the second period against St. Cloud State Saturday, Jan. 9, at Amsoil Arena. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
From left: Minnesota Duluth defenseman Matt Cairns (22), goaltender Zach Stejskal (35) and defenseman Darian Gotz (2) defend their net in the second period against St. Cloud State Saturday, Jan. 9, at Amsoil Arena. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

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Stejskal’s first start and only other appearance in the UMD net prior to Saturday came on Dec. 8, 2020, in the NCHC Pod in Omaha, Nebraska, when he stopped 23 of 25 shots in a 4-2 victory over Miami.

The Bulldogs and RedHawks are scheduled to meet again this weekend in Oxford, Ohio, dropping the puck at 6 p.m. Friday and 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

Stejskal said the 31 days in between starts was not a big deal for him. After backstopping Grand Rapids High School to the Minnesota Class AA state championship in 2016-17, he was prepared for the wait after playing three seasons of junior hockey — one with the Central Illinois Flying Aces of the United States Hockey League and the previous two with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights of the North American Hockey League — where longer layoffs were more common.

The break gave him more time to work with Bulldogs volunteer goaltending coach Brant Nicklin, and correct mistakes from that first start against Miami.

“We’re on the ice pretty much every day with him,” Stejskal said. “He’s helped me a lot at settling down my game and focusing on every single shot and not get too far ahead of myself. He’s helped a lot.”

Stejskal is now 1-1 after two starts with a .935 save percentage and 1.45 goals against average. Fanti, who has played 11 of 13 games so far this year, is 5-4-1 with a .903 save percentage and 2.51 GAA.

Sandelin said after Friday’s loss that Fanti needed to be better, but that was true for the entire Bulldogs squad that night. UMD fell behind 2-0, rallied to take a 3-2 lead over the Huskies, and then gave up goals late in the second and early in the third.

“We all have to better. It’s not just on Ryan. It’s our whole team,” Sandelin said Friday. “We didn’t give him a lot of help. We turn pucks over, we had some poor coverages. He made some saves.”

Goaltender Ryan Fanti (39) of Minnesota Duluth deflects a shot on goal in the second period against St. Cloud State during Friday's game at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Goaltender Ryan Fanti (39) of Minnesota Duluth deflects a shot on goal in the second period against St. Cloud State during Friday's game at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

UMD is NCAA tournament eligible

By completing last weekend’s series at Amsoil Arena, both the Bulldogs and Huskies became eligible for the NCHC and NCAA postseason tournaments.

Typically set at 20 games played to be eligible for the NCAA tournament, the NCAA adjusted the minimum number of games played this year to 13 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not wanting the league’s automatic NCAA tournament bid to potentially go to an ineligible team, the NCHC also set 13 games played as the minimum this season to play in the league’s postseason.

As of Jan. 11, only 11 of the 51 teams playing NCAA Division I men’s hockey are eligible at this point, including four from the NCHC after Western Michigan and Miami hit the mark on Friday. There are 22 teams that have played fewer than 10 games this season.

Bulldogs continue slide in polls

After starting the season ranked No. 3 in both national polls, the Bulldogs fell to No. 7 in the USCHO.com poll and to No. 8 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll this week.

UMD, which was fifth in both polls last week, started the season 5-0-1, but has since gone 1-5-1 with three-straight losses now to St. Cloud State, is ranked fourth by USCHO and fifth by USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine.