Minnesota Duluth sophomore goaltender Zach Stejskal went public Tuesday with his testicular cancer diagnosis, but informed his teammates last month.
Senior wing and captain Noah Cates said it was “some scary news” to take in at first, but the Bulldogs quickly rallied around their teammate, ready to help in any way they could.
“We've just tried to be there for him, support him, whatever he needs or wants,” Cates said Wednesday ahead of UMD’s Thanksgiving weekend series against Alaska at Amsoil Arena. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:07 p.m. Friday and 6:07 p.m. Saturday.
“He's been great about it,” Cates said. “He's honestly been a little too quiet about it, not really saying too much to us, but that's just kind of how he is. He's going to battle and we just want to be there for him and support him. He's done a great job.”
One of the ways the Bulldogs have been supporting Stejskal has been by growing mustaches and raising money for Movember, an organization that helps raise funds and bring awareness to men’s health issues, including testicular cancer.
Stejskal’s fellow goaltender, redshirt senior Ben Patt, organized the Bulldogs’ campaign, which started with a modest goal of raising $1,000 this month. The goal was increased to $5,000 on Wednesday after donations increased by over 570% in the 24 hours since Stejskal went public with his diagnosis on UMDBulldogs.com.
“Patter has done a great job with that, and obviously with Zach, it’s kind of blown up,” Cates said. “Really happy we did that to not only help out Zach, but other men and their fight against cancers and other things.”
Cates is among those growing a mustache for Movember — though he admits older brother Jackson is much better at growing facial hair than him — along with Patt, Luke Loheit, Matt Anderson, Ryan Fanti, Luke Mylymok, Kobe Roth and Jake Rosenbaum. Their mustaches are on display at us.movember.com/team/2417505.
The one person inside the men’s locker room at Amsoil Arena not growing a mustache is coach Scott Sandelin, who disclosed Wednesday that he is unable to grow one. That’s why he’s never been the kind of hockey player or coach to sport a playoff beard, either, he said.
But he’s a strong supporter of what his players are doing, and intended to chip in a donation this week after getting the OK from UMD’s compliance office that he wasn’t violating any NCAA rules.
“I hope some of them shave it soon, but they’re trying,” Sandelin said. “They’re all doing it for the right reasons, that’s all I care about.”
Stejskal, the Cohasset native who backstopped Grand Rapids High School to a Class AA state championship in 2017, is continuing his academics at UMD while undergoing cancer treatment. He’s declining interviews with media at the moment to focus on school and his health.
Sandelin said Stejskal has been dropping by Amsoil Arena when he can, which has been great to see. Stejskal told UMDBulldogs.com on Tuesday that he intends to play again this season.
“We're excited that things are going well and look forward to him getting back as soon as possible,” Sandelin said. “He's doing great, or as good as you can given given the circumstances. We're here to support him. The guys are doing a great job. It’s good to see him once in a while when he comes down. Hopefully we'll get him back soon.”
Scouting the Nanooks
After eight seasons in the WCHA, the University of Alaska Fairbanks men’s hockey program is an NCAA Division I independent again, just as it was between 1988-1993. The Nanooks were members of the CCHA from 1994-2013, but were not invited to the reincarnation of the league this season.
One of three independents this season along with Arizona State and Long Island — Alaska Anchorage will also be an independent when it returns in 2022-23 — fourth-year coach Erik Largen has put together a competitive 34-game regular season schedule that includes 14 home games at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks. The Bulldogs are one of three NCHC teams playing Alaska this year along with Denver and Omaha.
Alaska — whose roster includes 14 Europeans from Latvia, Russia, Sweden, Finland and Hungary — has already played four games against the Mavericks, getting swept Oct. 15-17 in Omaha and a week ago in Fairbanks. They come to Duluth with a 1-9 record, but Sandelin advises everyone to ignore it.
“They pressure pucks, they play a game where they get up the rink, they push you out of the zone a lot like Western,” Sandelin said of the Nanooks, whose one win came at home against Clarkson. “They work hard like every team does. If we're not ready, we're gonna make it very difficult.”
UMD was originally scheduled to host Alaska a year ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the series back to this season. The scheduling agreement does not include a return series in Fairbanks, but Sandelin said Wednesday the Bulldogs could “possibly” venture to the 49th state someday.
Games at Alaska are exempt, meaning they don’t count against the NCAA maximum of 34 regular season games. That’s enticing to Sandelin, as is helping independents like Alaska so college hockey doesn’t lose any more programs.
“It's probably a nice trip early in the year, but we don't have anything scheduled right now,” said Sandelin, who has played games in Anchorage against the Seawolves, but never in Fairbanks. “I've talked with (coach Eric Largen) a little bit, and so has (UMD athletic director Josh Berlo) with their administration about maybe trying to work something out.”