(Photo Credit, Russell Hons)
On Friday, University of North Dakota head coach Brad Berry announced that junior forward Mike Gornall has left the program to pursue other opportunities.
During the 2017-18 season, Gornall had yet to play in any games so he will be eligible to play with another Division I hockey program in January of 2019. In 20 games with UND, Gornall scored (3g-1a–4pts), he was also a minus-one. Gornall’s departure reminded me of another UND role player that bided his time, instead of pulling his pin.
Back in January of 2016, I interviewed former UND forward Coltyn Sanderson. During his first three years at UND, Sanderson played in a grand total of nine games recording two assists. Instead of leaving North Dakota for another school, Sanderson stuck it out and got his degree. After sitting in the stands for the first three seasons, Sanderson’s patience finally paid off.
During his final season, Sanderson was in the lineup more than he was out. Sanderson played in 35-of-44 games scoring (7g-5a–12pts), he was also a plus-10. Sanderson ended up 14th in points on a team that was very loaded. Six of Sanderson’s former teammates have played, or are now playing in the NHL today (Brock Boeser, Drake Caggiula, Paul LaDue, Tucker Poolman, Nick Schmaltz, and Troy Stecher).
Obviously, a player has got to do what’s best for himself. I don’t begrudge him for leaving, but he would’ve gotten a chance to play at some time in the season due to injuries and lineup decisions. I wish him luck. Gornall is a good kid and he’ll land on his feet somewhere.
A Look Back at Coltyn Sanderson
Hockey is a team game. Teams are only as good as their role players. There’s a limited number of positions and not everyone can play on the first line or be on the first power-play unit.
Teams need role players, these are the muckers and grinders. They chew up minutes, kill penalties and play on the energy line. Role players need to be ready when the coach calls their number.
When I was 20 years old playing at Weyburn, I was lucky enough to be approached by a lot of schools,” Sanderson said. “I was one of those older guys that they talk about – maybe a late bloomer. I was lucky and fortunate enough to have a good 20-year old season.
“I had a lot of opportunities to go to a lot of different schools. Some of them were 100 percent scholarships or higher scholarships than I received here. I had a smaller scholarship offer.”
“It came down to the Ralph Engelstad Arena. I don’t know how you come here and not fall in love with the place. Just talking with the coaches and the players that were here – hockey wise – the goals are set pretty high. It’s about winning a national championship. I had just fallen short of winning a national championship in Canada in juniors.”
For some players, it’s not just about playing time, it’s about playing for a program that’s the best fit. It’s also about being part of something bigger.
“To me, the most important thing was developing as a player and winning,” Sanderson said. “I saw that here. In coming here, the opportunity to be on a great team that was going to be in the mix, and going to Frozen Four every year. So far, I have been in two out of three of those. Hopefully, it’s going to be three out of four and get the job done this year. That was kind of a big staple of what I made my decision off of.”
After not playing very much in his first threes seasons, I asked Sanderson if he ever got frustrated or if he had any regrets.
“I am a competitive guy and that’s where the frustration sets in,” Sanderson said. “There’s almost doubt that can creep into your mind. Sometimes you feel that maybe you’re not good enough. Over time, I matured even though I was an older guy. There was some maturing to be done… maybe mentally.”
Sanderson continued, “I had some circumstances in the past where I had to battle adversity in my hockey career. This was no different. I just kind of had to look in the mirror and say, you know what? I am not a bad hockey player, just because I am not playing here. It’s just the fact that we’re at North Dakota. There’s depth and there’s talent.”
“There are not too many other rosters in the country that have 16… 17 NHL draft picks on them. You know it’s just something that I had to keep telling myself and just keep working hard. Obviously, this year it paid off. Hopefully, we can get the job done.”