Exodus begins for defending champs

Posted by: Dan Myers

Winning a national championship is certainly a big thing for a program. Recruiting will improve, meaning the future is brighter.

The problem is, in many cases, the short-term becomes cloudy because your successful underclassmen become targets of professional teams.

As is the case with Minnesota Duluth. Already losing major contributors like Justin Fontaine, Mike Montgomery and Kyle Schmidt because of graduation, team co-captain Mike Connolly announced he had signed a max deal with the San Jose Sharks, bypassing his senior season in Duluth.

It’s likely just the beginning. At minimum, the team is expected to lose Justin Faulk, a blue chip defenseman likely to sign with Carolina any day now.

Freshman winger J.T. Brown could be a target as well after being named the Frozen Four’s Most Valuable Player. On the biggest stage, Brown was far-and-away the best player on the ice. He’s only 5-10, but he has NHL speed with an ability to play physical and score goals. He would likely benefit from at least one more season in Duluth, but the fact is, guys with his ability usually don’t stay four years. He’s undrafted, which will likely drive his price up, meaning it will be much more difficult for him to turn down the pros when the opportunity arises.

Junior Jack Connolly will probably be back when you consider he’s only 5-8, but it only takes one team to be interested. Would a guy like Connolly — who’s also undrafted — turn down an opportunity to move on? He’s won a national championship and just a year ago, wasn’t on many radars.

At 6 feet, 200 lbs, Travis Oleksuk provides good size at the center spot. He could also be a guy that gets a few professional looks.

So while UMD is bringing in a solid recruiting class, including four defensemen, replacing guys like Connolly, Fontaine and Montgomery will be no easy task. Should Connolly, Brown and Oleksuk also get offered, repeating as champs would be even more difficult.

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