Denfeld News

June 7, 2008
Duluth News Tribune

Former Bulldog named assistant
By Kevin Pates

Brett Larson loved the idea of coming back home, returning to his alma mater and promoting the team he’s still passionate about — Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey.

So when an assistant coaching position opened in March, the former UMD captain applied for the job and officially joined Scott Sandelin’s staff Thursday night, agreeing to a one-year renewable contract. He’ll follow Lee Davidson, who resigned after six seasons.

Larson, 35, played 11 professional years as a defenseman, including two as a player-coach with the San Diego Gulls of the former West Coast Hockey League (1999-2001). His last season was in 2005-06 in England. For the past year he’s lived in Woodbury, Minn., and sold pharmaceuticals for Abbott Laboratories, and the past three months has coached an AAA midget all-star team of 12- and13-year-olds. He has not coached collegiately.

“I have a broad hockey experience and hope to bring a fresh viewpoint to UMD,” Larson said Thursday night. “Hockey is my passion, especially UMD hockey. I’ve been a fan since I was 10, when I was around UMD’s locker room all the time, and [former player] Dan Fishback gave me a stick that I brought back to the Merritt rink.

“When I realized I wasn’t going to move up in professional hockey, I was offered a chance to do some work as an assistant in player personnel and recruiting. Now I’d like to help recruit good players here and bring our program back to the top of college hockey.”

Sandelin said he got to know his future assistant coach when Larson worked at UMD hockey camps a few years ago, and believes he has the makings of a good college coach.

“Brett is a quality guy, who had a great work ethic as a player and been a captain for a number of teams. I think he has the ability to communicate with our players and spread his enthusiasm,” said Sandelin. “He’ll be a great representative of UMD.”

Larson, a former Duluth Denfeld High School star, was a sophomore in 1992-93 when UMD won the Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season title and advanced to the NCAA Division I tournament. He was a member of the WCHA all-academic team as a senior in 1994-95 and in a four-year career had 24 goals and 43 assists for 67 points in 133 games.

He played professionally for the Madison Monsters, Louisville Riverfrogs, San Diego Gulls, Long Beach Ice Dogs, Utah Grizzlies, Las Vegas Thunder, and internationally in Germany, Denmark and England, taking part in 543 games. At Denfeld, he played in two state tournaments under coach Bill Vukonich.

“I was UMD’s sixth or seventh defensemen when we won the WCHA title, but I found out that when you’re on the ice, even if you have a small role, it’s important and you have to take pride in that,” Larson said. “I realized the things that it took to make us a good team, and those are some of the things I hope to bring to the program now.

“I know how close UMD is to being back in the top half of the WCHA, and I believe it can be an exciting time working to get there.”

Larson, who is married to Duluth native Kelly Zaudtke, said he saw a handful of UMD games last season, when the Bulldogs finished 13-17-6 and placed eighth in the 10-team WCHA. UMD finished in the top half of the league most recently in 2003-04. Sandelin is 122-160-37 in eight seasons. His top assistant during that time has been Steve Rohlik.

The other finalists for the UMD assistant job were Coleraine native Chris Tok, an assistant at Michigan Tech since 2006, and former St. Cloud State assistant Brad Willner, head coach of Alexandria (Minn.) in the North American Hockey League the past three years.

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