DULUTH -- Fourth-ranked University of Minnesota Duluth will be without three players and its head coach this weekend at the Desert Hockey Classic due to the 2019 World Junior Championship.
But that should be it as top-six forwards Parker Mackay, Nick Swaney and Peter Krieger all have been cleared to play in the tournament opener at 5:30 p.m. Friday,
Dec. 28, against third-ranked Minnesota State-Mankato at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz.
Mackay — a senior captain and wing — and sophomore wing Swaney both missed the entirety of the Bulldogs’ final series before Christmas, a 3-2 loss and 1-1 shootout loss at Western Michigan. Both were banged up during a physical series split against North Dakota the weekend before at Amsoil Arena.
Krieger, a senior center, went down during the second period of the Dec. 7 loss and then missed the Dec. 8 series finale.
A two-week holiday layoff has allowed all three — who rank among UMD’s top five scorers — to get healthy for this weekend.
“Everyone skated today,” UMD associate head coach Jason Herter said Wednesday, just before the team hit the highway to beat the winter storm for its flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix. “We did a high-pace practice to start. … All indications are they finished practice so we’re expecting them to play.”
Swaney is fifth in scoring with four goals and five assists in 14 games.
Krieger, Swaney’s linemate on the top of the chart, is fourth with two goals and nine assists. Seven of those 11 points have come on power plays. Krieger is also one of the top Bulldogs in the faceoff circle, winning 56.2 percent of his draws (122-95).
Mackay is second on the team in scoring behind sophomore defenseman Scott Perunovich (2-16-18), but first among Bulldogs in goals scored with seven to go with his seven assists this year.
“I’m excited and looking forward to getting back,” Mackay said. “All the guys are excited, and we’re ready to make a push again. That’s the major focus right now is getting the two wins, at least the first one on Friday against Mankato.”
The Mavericks boast the fourth-best scoring offense in the country averaging 3.83 goals per game, so for UMD it’s reassuring to have their their top-five scorers and leading goal-scorer back from injury.
The captain’s offensive prowess this year isn’t what has coaches and teammates excited for his return, however, it’s Mackay’s leadership and the impact he makes in the locker room, on the bench and on the ice.
“From a leadership standpoint, he’s a guy that can rally the troops,” Krieger said of Mackay. “His attitude and tenacity and work ethic is something a lot of guys can follow, take notice of and mirror. That’s huge to have him back in the lineup. It will boost everyone like he’s done throughout his whole career here.”
Third-string goaltender Ben Patt sat out Wednesday’s practice. According to Herter, Patt is done for the season due to a shoulder injury that has plagued him during the first half of the season.
2018 DESERT HOCKEY CLASSIC
At Gila River Arena, Glendale, Ariz.
Minnesota Duluth vs. Minnesota State-Mankato, 5:30 p.m.
Clarkson vs. Arizona State, 8:30 p.m.
Minnesota Duluth/Minnesota State-Mankato vs. Clarkson, 5:30 p.m.
Minnesota Duluth/Minnesota State-Mankato vs. Arizona State, 8:30 p.m.