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Scissons, Nicklin back at UMD -- but only to wish Bulldogs well

All seemed in order for UMD's hockey team during a midweek captain's practice at the on-campus rink, because for the fifth consecutive year, Jeff Scissons and Brant Nicklin were there.

There was a difference, however. For the last four years, Scissons and Nicklin have been the team's security blankets. Scissons ignited the Bulldog offense, scoring as much as he could even while his teammates faltered and fired mostly blanks the past two years, while Nicklin was the stalwart in goal, setting records for games played and shots weathered, even while the team's ability to win faded.

This year, the Bulldogs will have to do it without them; their appearance at UMD was just a coincidental stopover for both of them as their paths converged while criss-crossing the continent on their way to minor league pro hockey assignments.

Scissons left the Vancouver Canucks camp, picked up his car back home in Saskatoon, and drove in on his way to Kansas City's International League site. He had to be there Friday. "We play on the 6th," he said.

Nicklin was sent down by the Pittsburgh Penguins to their Wilkes-Barre American League club, but a glut of goaltenders forced reassignment to the East Coast League, where he'll play for the Florida Everglades, based in Fort Myers.

Scissons, last year's captain, typically blamed no one but himself for not sticking with the Canucks.

"I spent the summer in Vancouver working out, and the people out there are really crazy about hockey," said Scissons. "Going to camp was really a learning experience. You get to challenge yourself at the next level, and I could have played better. I didn't have my best camp. It was a lot different, very quick, and you have to be quick adjusting. The scrimmages were pretty scrambly, and it was tough to read the play.

"It definitely was a good learning experience for me. The biggest difference is that you don't have much room to carry the puck. So now I'll go down to Kansas City and learn some more.

"In my case, I've got a good basis from my education, so I can play hockey because I enjoy it. I signed a two-way contract for two years, so I'm giving myself at least two years to give it a shot and at least establish that I can play at the NHL level."

Nicklin said: "We had seven goalies in camp at Pittsburgh, and they signed a couple more. There are still three goalies in Pittsburgh right now, and three more at Wilkes-Barre, and I heard they might sign still another one. They have so many goalies that when I had the chance to go to Carolina, their East Coast League team, I thought it was better to go to another team with a chance to play more."

Just about then, Scott Sandelin walked by in the adjacent corridor. It was perfect timing. Sandelin is the new UMD hockey coach, and his first task is to rebuild a contender from the Bulldogs who remain, without their two biggest cogs, who happened to be observers at that moment.

Sandelin was asked if he felt apprehensive about Monday, when practice officially begins, and he said no. "It's going to be fun, really," Sandelin said. "As our dryland training has gone on, all I've seen is a lot of enthusiasm. I think almost everybody has come in good shape, and from the way they've worked in dryland, I'd say they're extremely hard workers."

To prove how hard they're working, the Bulldogs have been run through their own Olympic-style competition in dryland training. Sandelin put together 15 events to challenge the players' conditioning before they ever hit the ice.

"We've got the mile run, three-mile run, 12-minute run, 40-yard dash, the 'Bulldog Run,' bench press, hip-sled, leg-press, pushups, pull-ups, sit-ups, 100-meter run, vertical jump, a flexibility test, and a grip-strength test," said Sandelin. "We have competition both individually and in three-man teams. The top individuals have been Jesse Fibiger, Ryan Homstol, Judd Medak, Andy Reierson and Jason Gregoire."

Derek Derow and Mark Gunderson have both been reduced to observers through captain's practice scrimmages because of arthroscopic knee surgery, considered minor, to clean up some fragments from previous surgery and/or injuries. Both laughed at the inevitable heckles that they were just trying to get out of the early practice regimen, and they clearly are looking forward to hitting the ice.

"No matter how many games we lost the last two years, we played the best teams tough in all but a couple cases," said Derow, who admitted he was surprised to be named captain. "The new coaches are upbeat and intense. All three of them have been winners, and I think their intensity is already filtering down through all the players."

If the lack of scoring was the primary reason that UMD nosedived to the lower reaches of the WCHA the past two seasons, linemates Scissons and Colin Anderson, who also was a senior, can't be blamed. The Bulldogs started last season 11-11, then plummeted with a 4-11 finish for a 15-22 record. Of the 15 game-winning goals, Anderson had four and Scissons three, meaning they had seven, almost equaling the eight compiled by the remaining 18 skaters. Anderson scored 18 goals and Scissons 14, accounting for 34.4 percent of the team's goals.

The top two returning goal-scorers are Derow, who scored 10, and sophomore Drew Otten, a walk-on who scored nine goals, including three game-winners. Scissons scoffed at comparing last year's numbers. "Every guy I've talked to seems real excited," Scissons said. "I think a lot of guys have something left to prove."