DULUTH — During his final news conference of the 2018-19 season at Amsoil Arena, just days after leading Minnesota Duluth to back-to-back national championships, coach Scott Sandelin addressed his potential NHL aspirations, saying, “Right now my plan is to be back at Duluth, and be at Duluth for a long time, hopefully.”
But he added a caveat.
“If somebody calls me, I'll listen,” Sandelin said.
Well, somebody called and Sandelin did indeed listen. On Monday, the Bulldogs coach of the last 19 seasons traveled to Southern California to interview with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks for the franchise’s vacant head coach position.
Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic first reported Saturday night via Twitter the Ducks would interview Sandelin this week, and on Tuesday he confirmed that he was in Anaheim on Monday.
“I said I’d listen,” said Sandelin, who offered little insight into his interview, only adding that it went well.
Sandelin, 54, is coming off back-to-back NCAA titles at UMD and three straight national championship game appearances going back to 2016-17. He led the Bulldogs to their first NCAA title in 2010-11 and has a 21-6 record with UMD in NCAA tournaments.
Sandelin, with a 369-311-87 overall record at UMD, became the program’s all-time winningest coach in 2018-19. He has two years remaining on his current contract with the Bulldogs that was signed in 2016. He’s scheduled for base salaries of $330,000 in 2019-20 and $350,000 in 2020-21.
“We don’t want Scott to go anywhere, we’re committed to him at the helm of Bulldog hockey for the long term, but understand the opportunity that is in front of him,” UMD athletic director Josh Berlo said. “We support him exploring coaching at the absolute pinnacle of his profession.”
Sandelin said he is not aware of the Ducks’ timeline for making a hire as there are other candidates that still needed to be interviewed. There might be a second round of interviews, he said.
The timeline Sandelin was more focused on Tuesday was getting the players he needs signed to national letters of intent for UMD’s upcoming 2019-20 season.
The Ducks fired coach Randy Carlyle in February. General manager Bob Murray finished the season as interim head coach.
Other reported candidates for the head coaching job in Anaheim include New York Islanders associate coach Lane Lambert, Dallas Stars assistant coaches Todd Nelson and Rick Bowness, and San Diego Gulls head coach Dallas Eakins.
The Gulls are the Ducks' top minor-league affiliate in the American Hockey League. According to reports, Eakins was considered the favorite to get the job, but over a week has passed since the Gulls’ season came to an end in the AHL conference finals.
Nelson and Bowness both work for Sandelin’s former NCHC rival, Jim Montgomery, who led the Stars to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs as a rookie NHL coach. Montgomery coached Denver for five seasons — beating Sandelin and UMD in the 2017 NCAA title game — before signing a four-year, $6.4 million deal with the Stars after the 2017-18 season.
Montgomery is one of three NCAA Division I head coaches to make the jump to the NHL in the last five years. David Quinn, coach at Boston University for five seasons, was hired by the New York Rangers the same year Montgomery was hired by the Stars and given a five-year, $12 million contract.
Dave Hakstol left North Dakota in 2015 after 11 seasons to sign a five-year, $10 million contract to coach the Philadelphia Flyers. He was fired in December after leading the Flyers to two playoff berths in three-plus seasons.
If Sandelin — who was mentioned as a candidate for the Rangers' job along with Quinn — was to be offered the Ducks’ job and accept it, he’d be the sixth coach to go directly from college to NHL head coach. Prior to Hakstol in 2015, only two had gone directly from college head coach to NHL head coach — Bob Johnson from Wisconsin to Calgary and Ned Harkness from Cornell to Detroit.