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Matt Wellens | Duluth News Tribune | October 3, 2018

College hockey: Minnesota Duluth's Sandelin enters 19th season among NCAA's elite coaches

Minnesota Duluth wins the 2018 NCAA title.

When top-ranked Minnesota Duluth drops the puck Saturday, Oct. 6 against the Minnesota Gophers at Amsoil Arena, Scott Sandelin will begin his 19th season as head coach of the Bulldogs.

The Hibbing native is one of 20 head coaches in the history of NCAA Division I men's hockey to have won multiple national championships, with just three -- Sandelin, Notre Dame's Jeff Jackson, also a two-time champ, and Boston College's Jerry York, who has won five -- still active today.

With 17 of 21 players returning from the team that beat Jackson's Fighting Irish in the 2018 NCAA championship at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Sandelin seems poised to move closer to York and the nine coaches who have won three or more titles in their career.

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That elite club includes Herb Brooks, "Badger Bob" Johnson, John MacInnes, Jack Parker and Sandelin's former coach at North Dakota, John "Gino" Gasparini.

The News Tribune sat down with Sandelin in his Amsoil Arena office in August, just as classes at UMD were getting underway, to talk not only about winning a second NCAA title, but about what is next for the Bulldogs coach (the NHL, maybe?) and what still drives him going into his 19th season.

How long did you take to sit and relish that second championship?

Probably like normal. You got a week or two. The hard part is every time you win, or when the season ends, you worry about who is staying and who is going besides your seniors. You're always worried about that stuff.

You get back in the groove quickly then?

Yeah, usually that following week. Quite frankly, seriously, by midweek I'm already into next year. I'm still enjoying it, no question. This one was fun this year because I thought the community seemed a lot more excited about it because it was a bit unexpected. Not that they weren't excited for the first one, but it seemed like there was a little more of a buzz, which is great.

Was winning that second title a big deal for you, or just a big deal for what it means for the program?

I think it's always important for the program and the community and the school, everything. The players, they'll never forget it. That stuff is probably the most important and has the most value. For us, yeah it means a lot, don't get me wrong, but it's fun to see the players experience that too and the community to get to do that again. It took a long time to get the first one and you never know when it's going to happen again. No one expected that. I'm not saying I expected it, at least last year, just with the turnover. That's the craziness of college sports. It speaks to our culture here and our environment. We had great leadership with Karson (Kuhlman) and Parker (Mackay). Those guys did a great job, man. They were really good.

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Not a lot of coaches have won an NCAA title. You're now in the group that has two with Jeff Jackson, George Gwozdecky, Red Berenson, Don Lucia, Dean Blais, Rick Comley. What does it mean to you to be in that class of coaches?

It means a lot. I'll appreciate it a lot more when it's all done. All I know is I tied my buddy (Blais). He's a big reason why I'm coaching because I got to experience a couple with him. The success we had allowed me to get this job. I'll appreciate it more just like everything when you're done. When you're in it, you move on. It's year-to-year and you move on. The accolades are great, but you don't do it without good people around you. That's the most important thing to me. That's why we enjoy what we do around here because we've got a great support staff. I've got great assistant coaches and more importantly we've got really good players.

In the spring when New York Rangers rumors were floating around, you told me you had thought about the NHL. Is the NHL something you'd like to pursue someday? Is that an interest for you?

I wouldn't say it's not. I'm not necessarily out there trying to apply for every job. I think over the last five years there has been some interest from teams, albeit not for say head jobs. You think about it, but I like this level. I like dealing with this age group, the challenges that are involved. Every level you go to has challenges, but watching them come in and grow and that stuff. I think if that opportunity is out there again down the road you look at it. Doesn't mean you take it, but I'm not looking to do that right now unless something comes up. It was great to see. I joked with people. 'Did you talk to them?' I said, 'No, the only guys I've talked to are a couple guys from Hibbing that are Iron Rangers.' I guess it's nice to have your name out there, but I have a good job."

Is it head coach or nothing in the NHL? Would you be willing to be an assistant?

Depends on the situation.

How have you seen the college game change over your coaching career, and even since the last time you won the national championship?

Since I started, the recruiting part has changed a lot. We're getting earlier and earlier. We're going to try and slow that down, which I think will happen. It wasn't like that before. You were watching kids for 2-3 years before making a decision on some of them and it was a little bit older. You were still getting younger recruits, but they weren't eighth grade. Maybe 11th grade. That's changed. The social media world has played a big part in that. There are no secrets anymore. I did not know when I went to college who was coming in. Now everybody knows. You have lists. You got Twitter. You have the agent involvement. All those things have changed a lot.

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Has that lessened your love of this level with how the recruiting game has changed and all, and the agents getting involved?

No. I would really like to see it slow down. I really do. I think we're getting into some scary territory, just with the decisions. You look at all the decommitments now and a lot of that is due to the early recruiting. Things change in 2-3 years. Again, more noise.

And I'll be honest with you. Our game has always had a lot of integrity. I still think there is a big group that still has that, but when I see Division I football and basketball and how that recruiting world is, I don't want to see hockey get to that. We're a small group. It's a unique group. It's a special group, but you know what? Some of the stuff that is going on is going to deteriorate that quickly.

Is some of the stuff that's going on, like the gentlemen's agreement getting tossed out the window, come with the pressure that is being put on coaches? I don't know if you feel any of that pressure.

It's different. Guys are getting paid a lot of money now. Everybody, it's about winning, which I don't necessarily think is the most important thing. To me, you're a developmental stage. You're a big part of some of these players' lives as a coaching staff, as a program. To me, hockey is a part of it and winning is a part of it, but at the end of the day you want kids to come in here and when they leave you want them to be better people and be ready for the next step and hopefully better hockey players. Whether that is after one year, two years -- it's hard after one. If you can keep guys here for four years, that's what I enjoy about this is watching a kid come in, sit here as a freshman and be really quiet and each year they are more talkative when you are doing meetings with them. They open up, they mature, they grow. To me, that's what it's about. Hopefully the guys that come through here when they leave, they are ready for that next step.

For you, with two national championships now with this program, what still motivates you? What still drives you as a head coach?

To just get better. To learn, to get better. I love to win too, don't get me wrong. You've seen me. I'm not a good loser. At the same time, just like a player, you're trying to get better every year. I think you learn different things every year. Some good, some bad. I just think you're trying to improve and get better and relate that to everybody you are working with. The biggest thing is if you surround yourself with good people, you learn from those people. That's why I love our staff because we're a really close family. We all share the same values. That's fun and we're hopefully able to relay those same values to our players. To me at the end of the day, as long as our program is represented the right way -- the winning is great -- but I want our program to be represented the right way. I want people to respect our program for how our guys handle themselves, how they treat people. Play hard and if the end result is winning, then they should get rewarded for that. That, to me, is critical. 

This article is written by Matt Wellens from Duluth News Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.