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Shepard making more memories on Xcel Energy Center ice

Goaltender led Minnesota Duluth to national championship here back in April

by Dan Myers @DanMyers / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- Defenseman Mark Auk was retreating into his own zone during Thursday's Green-White scrimmage at Wild development camp when suddenly he heard someone shouting at him.

The voice was almost part coach, part drill instructor.

Bellowing out information was none other than his goaltender, Hunter Shepard of the University of Minnesota Duluth.

For Shepard, a Cohasset native in camp this week as an invitee, barking out what he sees is nothing new.

But for Auk, who graduated from Michigan Tech University in the spring before getting his first taste of pro hockey with Iowa at the end of the season, it was an entirely new experience.

"I didn't know who was talking," Auk said with a grin. "I was just like, 'Who is this?'"

Auk's Huskies played Shepard's Bulldogs last season, but Auk said he never noticed how vocal Shepard is when he's on the ice.

It didn't take him more than a shift to hear it on Thursday.

"It definitely helps as a defenseman, when you're skating back for the puck and you've got half the ice behind you and you're not seeing it," Auk said. "Then he talks to you and you get a feel for what's going on. It was definitely nice.

"That's what I was telling him, keep that up. That definitely helps us. I've never played with a goalie who [talks that much], usually they'll just say one or two things. He's talking every shift, letting us know." 

The results are hard to argue.


[RELATED: News, video and more from the Wild's 2018 development camp is available at Wild.com/developmentcamp].
 

In his first year as UMD's starting goaltender last season, the sophomore led the Bulldogs to a national championship on Xcel Energy Center ice back in April.

Quiet and reserved off the ice and with the media, Shepard is anything but once he's in the confines of the blue paint. 

It's an aspect of his game that he learned while playing at Grand Rapids High School. A Frank Brimsek Award winner with the Thunderhawks as the state's top senior goaltender, Shepard moved on to the North American Hockey League's Bismarck Bobcats.

Despite two quality NAHL seasons, Shepard wasn't committed to a school until UMD came calling late in his junior career. 

The Bulldogs recruited Shepard to be their third goaltender, but a pair of early departures to the pro ranks gave him a chance to earn a starting spot between the posts for the first time last fall. He took it and ran, posting a 1.91 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage in 41 games, leading UMD to its second national championship in school history. 

"I think [communicating] helped me a lot this year at UMD just because we were so good defensively," Shepard said. "Especially in the second half [of the season] it really helped keep me in games mentally. The guys would keep saying when they'd get off the ice, 'Keep talking, it really helped.' You've gotta help those guys out any way you can."

Minnesota Duluth ranked fifth nationally, allowing 2.08 goals per game, and Shepard's goals against and save percentages each ranked among the 10 best in the country. 

All of this despite playing five freshmen defensemen on a regular basis. 

"It was weird at first; I was just hearing a lot of yelling," said fellow Team Green defenseman Brennan Menell. "But I didn't even need to look behind me and see. It's really big, just going back for pucks, he's telling you what's going on. It really is a huge help [compared to] a goalie who doesn't really talk to you."

Coming back to St. Paul this week has been special for Shepard. It's his first trip back to the building since the Bulldogs won the championship three months ago. 

"We're staying in the same hotel, so on the walk over, it's goose bumps," Shepard said. "I'm three stalls down here from where I was sitting [in April]. So it's a lot of good memories for sure."

The camp with the Wild marks Shepard's second consecutive week with an NHL team after he spent the week prior in the Buffalo Sabres' development camp. 

These experiences, combined with the coaching he gets back at UMD, help provide him with all the experience he needs to one day reach his ultimate goal of playing in the NHL, and perhaps make a few more memories on Xcel Energy Center ice.

"I think a lot of teams are similar in a way [in how they teach] and every team is a little bit different in terms of what they like culture wise. But at the end of the day, every place wants to win and that's the vibe you get whether you're at UMD or here," "You just ask as many questions as you can and just kind of soak it in."

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