Hershey Bears Sign Two-Time National Champion and All-American Hunter Shepard

Posted June 30, 2020

photo via UMD Athletics

The Hershey Bears have announced they have signed two-time All-American Hunter Shepard to a contract for the 2020-21 season. Shepard said in a phone interview with Capitals Outsider on Monday that he has “no clue” what that season is going to look like.

Shepard, 24 , would not disclose what the Bears said to him about how they see him fitting into the team, but said  that he is “excited” he gets to prolong his hockey career.

The 6’1″ 210 lbs goalie might not be a name on a lot of people’s radars, but his stats at the University of Minnesota Duluth speak for themselves.

He leaves the Bulldog program as the all-time leader in wins (he was 76-37-5 overall), goals against average (1.94), saves percentage (.922) and shut outs (17). He also holds the distinction of being the only UMD goalie to ever secure all-conference first team status on more than one occasion. He was the first Bulldog netminder in over 40 years to be named captain as he wore the “C” this past season as a senior.

These marks have given Shepard some postseason recognition. He is a two-time All-American (first team in 2018-19, and second team in 2019-20), Two-time NCHC Goaltender of the Year (2018-19 and 2019-20), Three-time Mike Richter Award Finalist, given to the NCAA’s top goalie, and a Three-time All-NCHC selection.

“Even with all the success he’s had, he’s as down to earth a person as I’ve met,” Bulldog head coach Scott Sandelin also told Capitals Outsider over the phone on Monday.

Shepard will also leave Duluth with an NCAA record of 115 straight starts dating from Oct. 21, 2017 until March 7, 2020, the last game before the season was cut because of the Coronavirus pandemic. “I’m a competitive guy,” Shepard said of his streak.  “I like to be in there just like anybody does.”

“It’s certainly tells you he’s in very good not only just physical shape to be able to do it, but just the mentality to have yourself ready to go,” UMD goalie coach Brant Nicklin told Capitals Outsider over the phone Monday. “Not just play those games, but to play over the course of 115 games to be able to play at the level he did and on such a consistent level is certainly an attribute that obviously Hershey and the Capital organization looked at as well.”

Sandelin, who played 148 games for the Bears between 1988-91, said Shepard performs his best in the biggest games. While this may be cliche, it couldn’t be more true.

He is 8-0 all-time in NCAA Tournament games with an astounding goals against average of 0.97 and a .953 save percentage backstopping UMD to back-to-back titles in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Shepard said he “wouldn’t say I really compare to anyone” in the NHL, but added that his two favorite goalies were Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist, and that there elements of those two in his game.

“[He has an] unorthodox style. Unique catching glove,” Sandelin said. “He never really closes it all the time. … He’s really calmed down in the net. I think when he first got here, coming out of high school and junior hockey, I think he relied on a lot of athleticism, which he has. But I think he has learned to play a little bit of a calmer game.”

“He is very athletic. He’s not just a technical game like some of the bigger goalies that are out there,” Nicklin said. “He still has some athleticism to his game. At the end of the day, it’s something I’ve continued to try to work with him on is continuing to get more technical every year.”

Nicklin didn’t want to compare Shepard to Dominik Hasek but said he did whatever he could to get something in front of the puck and that it “isn’t always the prettiest looking thing, but it certainly was effective.”

As for life off the ice, Shepard spends his time hunting and fishing. Something his former coach knows he will have plenty of opportunities to keep doing.

Said Sandelin: “I lived in Hershey and I played in Hershey, so I know there’s those opportunities.”