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Head Coach Hunt: Scott Sandelin

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The University of Minnesota-Duluth head coach had emerged as a surprising finalist for the Ducks head coaching job.

Scott Sandelin

Age: 54

NCAA record: 369–311–87

NHL record: N/A

Brett Groehler / UMD

When TSN and The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported on June 1st that the Anaheim Ducks would be interviewing University of Minnesota–Duluth’s head coach Scott Sandelin, many heads turned.

To that point, Dallas Eakins, Lane Lambert, Rick Bowness, and Todd Nelson had been confirmed to have interviews for the Anaheim bench boss position, with Lambert and Nelson now confirmed to be out of the running.

But Sandelin had just signed a contract extension with Minnesota and seemed to be staying put. However, the Duluth News Tribune reported that, despite agreeing to the contract extension, Sandelin was still able to interview with General Manager Bob Murray and could accept the job should he be offered.

Sandelin himself seemed to enjoy the interview.

Making the jump to the NHL would likely be appealing to the NCAA veteran from a dollars perspective. His new deal will pay him $400,000 per year with raises of $10,000 each season during the four-year extension. However, Sandelin could make more than double that amount if he were to head to the NHL, even with the Ducks being known as one of the cheaper teams when it comes to paying head coaches. While there are no confirmed numbers out there, it was rumored that Randy Carlyle was being paid somewhere in the $1.5 million per season range. This would likely be a starting spot for any of the candidates when the negotiating begins.

Sandelin has been at the helm of the University of Minnesota–Duluth Bulldogs for the past 19 straight seasons since the year 2000 and has solidified them into one of the top teams in college hockey over the past decade-plus. He has led the Bulldogs to three NCAA titles in four trips (2011, 2018, 2019). Before that, he was an assistant with the University of North Dakota, winning two national titles under head coach Dean Blais.

It’s safe to say that Sandelin has established himself as one of the best coaches in college hockey. And yet, interviews for head coaching positions have been lacking. The NHL in general, as one might expect, has an aversion to looking for fresh talent for its ranks outside of the established “200 hockey-men”. However, that trend may be changing for those coaching NCAA hockey.

The recent hirings of David Quinn (Boston University) for the New York Rangers and Jim Montgomery (University of Denver) for the Dallas Stars may have nudged the door open for coaches with illustrious college track records like Sandelin.

The veteran college boss has a reputation of being a coach that guys want to play for. Many of his former players talk about how they would run through walls for him because he would do the same. From Ken Campbell’s profile on Sandelin for The Hockey News:

“He definitely makes you want to play for him,” said St. Louis Blues prospect and Bulldogs defenseman Scott Perunovich. “No doubt he would be successful wherever he went. He knows how to get everything from every player and you want to run through a wall through that guy.”

This obviously fits the mold of the kind of coach Murray wants to hire: a coach that players want to play for and who can communicate and develop on an individual level.

While Sandelin’s teams could certainly score, he is perhaps best-known for his crushing defensive systems that have had the capability to drive high-flying college offenses into the ground.

“Sandelin would be a great hire,” Eyes On The Prize senior writer Scott Malta told Anaheim Calling. “He ran some of the most suffocating defensive systems I’ve ever seen.”

Given the solid talent the Ducks still employ on their blueline along with younger prospects like Jacob Larsson, Josh Mahura, and Brendan Guhle, Sandelin could completely pivot the Ducks defensive play, which gave up the most shots in the league last season. This would also likely be great news for John Gibson, theoretically easing his insane workload of the past couple of seasons.

Sandelin would be the most “out-of-the-box” hire of the remaining candidates, as far as NHL coaching standards go. But with the recent trend of college coaches getting NHL call-ups, and with the Ducks needing a coach to bring them into a modern, younger era of hockey, Scott Sandelin could have what it takes to get the Ducks back into Stanley Cup contention.