DULUTH -- Minnesota Duluth sophomore wing Tanner Laderoute still considers the night Oct. 6, 2018, “probably the craziest night of his life.”
That’s when the Bulldogs men’s hockey program unveiled its second national championship banner, right before tying Minnesota 1-1 to open the regular season before a sellout crowd of 7,361 at Amsoil Arena.
Laderoute wasn’t in the lineup that night, and he wasn’t a member of that 2017-18 NCAA champion Bulldogs either, but the night still made an impact on him as a rookie.
“It was insane,” said Laderoute, who would make his UMD debut the next night in Minneapolis. “That building, you couldn't even hear yourself think. That was probably one of the cooler nights of my life. I'm glad I got to be a part of that and I'm really excited to be a part of this one Friday.”
For the third time in program history and second year in a row, the Bulldogs will hold a national championship banner ceremony to open the regular season, with UMass-Lowell being the invited guest this time around. The Bulldogs and River Hawks open a two-game nonconference series at 7:07 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11, and wrap things up at 7:07 p.m. Saturday.
For coach Scott Sandelin and much of his staff, it will be the third time they get to take part in a banner ceremony at UMD, with the first taking place prior to a 4-3 win over Notre Dame on Oct. 7, 2011. It will be the second ceremony now for 20 Bulldogs, but the first for the five freshmen who arrived in the fall.
Unlike last year’s incoming freshmen, this year’s rookies will watch as the spotlight shines bright on back-to-back banners Friday night.
Another banner in the rafters doesn’t change things, however, for freshman wing Quinn Olson. The 18-year-old from Calgary, who was taken in the third round of the NHL draft by Boston, said the back-to-back titles have been on his mind ever since he joined the Bulldogs.
“It's cool for all of us freshmen just coming in here knowing that this is a top notch organization that can win,” Olson said.
“It’s pretty special,” said UMD freshman wing Luke Loheit, a 19-year-old winger out of Minnetonka who was drafted by Ottawa in 2018. “It's definitely intimidating at first, but all these guys are great and they've been great role models to me and all the freshmen so far.”
Role models, not banners, are what inspired Bulldogs junior wing Nick Swaney when he arrived on campus in 2017-18. UMD was coming off its first trip to the Frozen Four since the 2011 title. The Bulldogs lost to Denver in the NCAA championship game and significant roster turnover followed.
Expectations were modest outside of Amsoil Arena, but that wasn’t the case inside as leaders like Karson Kuhlman set a standard for work ethic that Swaney said he and others couldn’t help but follow.
Ever since, Swaney said he’s tried to put in the same effort in order to inspire his teammates like Kuhlman and company inspired him.
“College is a big jump from playing juniors or for guys coming from high school,” Swaney said. “Coming in right away and seeing the battle and compete level from those guys, it’s contagious. It makes you want to do it. That was a huge thing for me to get acclimated and get comfortable playing college hockey.”
Laderoute, who went on to record seven goals and five assists in 38 games last season, said the Bulldogs’ leadership last season was a big part of his transition from juniors to college. It also helped to be practicing against the best defensemen in the country, he said.
But the night of Oct. 6, 2018, when the 2018 banner was unveiled, that was the initial spark. That was his first taste of success at UMD and when the bar was set for him and his new teammates.
Seeing that 2018 banner lit a fire for him, and he hopes Oct. 11, 2019 does the same for the next generation of Bulldogs.
“Definitely puts a want in your heart, like, ‘Wow, these guys made this night happen,’” Laderoute said. “I know our freshmen want to do that. I wanted to do it last year. It was it was awesome to watch.”