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The Championship Connection

by Glen Andresen / Minnesota Wild

Someone fouled up when they divvied up the Minnesota Wild's Development Camp roster into a Team Green and a Team White. When the rosters were finalized last week, someone put Justin Fontaine on Team White and Jack Connolly and J.T. Brown on Team Green.

Those were three of the top four scorers on last year's National Champion UMD Bulldogs, accounting for 56 goals and 154 points in UMD's 42 games. Fontaine and Connolly made up two-thirds of the most potent line in college hockey along with Mike Connolly who signed as a free agent with the San Jose Sharks this past spring.

"Hands down the best line I've ever played on," said Jack Connolly.

Brown spent most of his freshman season on the second line, but was used with that trio on the top power play unit, and was named the Frozen Four Most Valuable Player.

What say you Brad Bombardir, the Wild's Director of Player Development?

"When we pick the teams, [Assistant General Manager] Brent Flahr and I sit down and pick like-skilled and experienced players and try to evenly distribute them," said Bombardir. "We also then like to try to put certain guys together to see how they work together."

Perhaps Fontaine was separated so the Wild brass can see how he does on his own. They know how he works with Connolly and Brown, and he's not going to have his old mates with him this year. 

And while it's not unheard of for trades to be made between Team Green and Team White at some point during Development Camp, Fontaine likes things just the way they are.

"No, I'm good," Fontaine said with a sly grin. "I want the bragging rights and I will let them hear about it."

Prior to this week, the last time Brown, Fontaine and Connolly were on the Xcel Energy Center ice together, they were bear hugging the bejeebers out of each other and taking turns hoisting UMD's first-ever national title trophy over their heads.

Although Fontaine is no longer a Bulldog, having signed with the Wild as a free agent in May, the bond between the three is apparent. They've eaten their meals together, roamed the arena halls together and taking turns chirping each other as they try to get through on-camera interviews without cracking up.

"It's nice to come out here and have guys I've played with before," said Brown, who participated in the Philadelphia Flyers' camp earlier this summer. "It makes it a little bit easier out there on the ice because you already know what they're going to do."

It's possible that Fontaine may be reunited with Connolly and/or Brown in the future if the two undrafted free agents impress the right people at this year's camp. Both are free agents, and both are expected to return to UMD for this upcoming season before figuring out their professional futures. Connolly will be the senior team captain and early Hobey Baker candidate. Brown will begin his sophomore year, and another impressive season could make him one of the hottest commodities in the college free agent market next season.

"I just wanted to come down here and show them what I've got and try to turn some heads and maybe get my foot in the door," said Connolly, who can look at his former teammate for inspiration. "I'm looking at [Fontaine] and trying to take the same route a little bit. I want to work hard, have the best camp I can and then go back up and have my best season ever. Hopefully something will happen after that."

Brown has the same mentality.

"It's going to be a great learning tool for us," he said. "That's the main thing I want to get out of this camp is figure out where I need to go and what I need to do to play at the next level."

Fontaine took part in the Wild's camp last season and was impressive in scoring two goals in last year's Saturday scrimmage. He was an invitee then, and he's now a property of the Wild, and willing to help his old teammates learn the ropes.

"It's a great experience to be a part of this camp. What I learned last year, I definitely took with me into this past season," said Fontaine. "It helps to have experience of these camps and I think Jack and J.T. will take a lot of positives from here."

Throw defenseman Derik Johnson of Bloomington in that mix as well. Johnson will attend UMD a year after watching his future team win the title.

The Bulldogs scored 14 goals on their march through the NCAA tournament. Fontaine and Jack Connolly scored two each. Brown scored one. Their ability to find each other with pinpoint passes had ESPN analyst Barry Melrose raving at their ability to work with the man-advantage.

"I would pay to watch this team in the wintertime. I would pay to watch this power play every game in the wintertime," said Melrose after Jack Connolly buried the winning goal on assists from Fontaine and Brown in a Frozen Four semifinal against Wild prospect Sean Lorenz and Notre Dame.

"It was definitely a special moment in my hockey career," said Connolly. "The whole team knew the previous year that the Frozen Four was going to be down here in St. Paul and we were making it our goal to do everything we could to get down here.

"I knew this building well. A couple state tournaments, a couple Final Fives. So I was pretty comfortable in this arena and to come out on top was pretty amazing."

Connolly and Brown hope to be back here in March for the WCHA Final Five. Fontaine is hoping to impress in his rookie season and hopefully earn a callup to make his NHL debut at Xcel Energy Center. But right now all three are focused on Saturday and Sunday.

Bragging rights are on the line.

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