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UMD men's hockey: Kelley enters transfer portal, leaving Bulldogs shorthanded on blue line at the moment

With just one eligible defenseman in the recruiting pipeline, the Bulldogs could be looking to add more than just a goaltender from the transfer portal this offseason.

Minnesota Duluth Men’s Hockey plays North Dakota at Amsoil Saturday
Minnesota Duluth defenseman Connor Kelley (25) and North Dakota forward Ashton Calder (16) compete for the puck on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — A day after shoring up its depth at goaltender, Minnesota Duluth took a hit on the blue line.

Sophomore defenseman Connor Kelley became the fourth Bulldog to reportedly enter the NCAA transfer portal this offseason, and the first to have logged significant playing time in 2021-22.

Kelley, 20, played in 39 games this past season, tallying two goals and nine assists. He began the season in a top-four role on the blue line playing alongside fifth-year senior Matt Anderson and then fellow sophomore Chicago Blackhawks draft pick Wyatt Kaiser. By the end of the season, Kelley was on the third pairing with freshman defenseman Owen Gallatin.

A native of Maple Grove, Minnesota, Kelley played two seasons with the USA Hockey National Team Development program before appearing in 25 games as a freshman in 2020-21 when he totaled three goals and two assists.


Kelley was drafted over the summer by the Chicago Blackhawks in the seventh round — No. 204 overall — of the 2021 NHL Draft, and in the fall was named to the U.S. National Junior Team preliminary roster for the World Juniors, but didn’t make the final cut.

Other Bulldogs reportedly in the transfer portal from UMD include senior defenseman Jake Rosenbaum, senior forward Jarrett Lee and junior forward Ben Almquist. Those three played a combined 35 games last season.

The Bulldogs added Maine junior goaltender Matthew Thiessen from the transfer portal on Monday.

With Ben Patt electing not to return for a sixth season and Ryan Fanti signing an NHL contract, Zach Stejskal will be the only returning goaltender for UMD in 2022-23. The Bulldogs will bring in Zach Sandy from the NAHL and Maine junior Matthew Thiesen.

UMD carried nine defensemen in 2021-22, which is one higher than coach Scott Sandelin typically has carried on the roster. Two defensemen, Anderson and fellow fifth-year Louie Roehl, have exhausted their eligibility. They could lose a third to graduation if senior Hunter Lellig decides not to return for his fifth season.

And now two blueliners are looking to transfer, leaving Kaiser, Gallatin, sophomore Darian Gotz of Hermantown and freshman Will Francis as the only four defenseman set to return for 2022-23, as of Tuesday.

The Bulldogs have two defensemen ready to come into the program in the fall of 2022 in Aiden Dubinsky and Riley Bodnarchuk. Dubinsky, who signed a National Letter of Intent in the fall, is an 18-year-old playing for the United States Hockey League’s Tri-City Storm and a prospect for the upcoming NHL Draft. Bodnarchuk is a 6-foot-3, 194-pound defenseman who is aging out of juniors after playing for the Okotoks Oilers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

The only other defenseman in UMD’s recruiting pipeline that is eligible to come in next season is Hermantown native Joey Pierce, who has spent the 2021-22 season in the USHL with the Lincoln Stars. He has a goal and 13 assists in 55 games thus far.

Notable defensemen reportedly to have entered the NCAA transfer portal include Miami senior captain Derek Daschke, Nebraska-Omaha senior Jason Smallidge, RPI junior defenseman Simon Kjellberg, Alaska senior defenseman Antti Virtanen and Michigan Tech senior defenseman Eric Gotz, the Hermantown native and brother of UMD’s Darian Gotz.


Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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