Cohasset native Hunter Shepard, has found himself in the national spotlight. The former Grand Rapids High School hockey standout goaltender has now won back-to-back national championships backstopping for the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs.
Shepard graduated from Grand Rapids High School in 2014. That same year, he was awarded the Frank Brimsek award, which is given to the most outstanding senior goaltender in the state of Minnesota. He went on to play in the North American Hockey League with the Bismarck Bobcats and won the NAHL goalie of the year award in 2016.
Shepard then committed to play for the Bulldogs of Duluth and only saw the ice in two games his first year there. The next year, he was given the opportunity to prove himself and did so tremendously. In his sophomore and junior years at UMD, Shepard posted an impressive goals against average of 1.84 and an average save percentage of .924. He was named to the NCHC second all-star team in 2018, and to the NCHC first all-star team and the west first all-American team along with being named the NCHC goaltender of the year in 2019. On top of all these achievements, Shepard has added two national championship rings to his arsenal.
What has led him to all this success? The first thing has been his work ethic. Shepard says that he has always been a competitive person. Throughout his career, he has been passed up by many teams due to his height and being relatively short compared to the typical NHL goaltender. Despite this, he says that he just stuck with it and kept going until he was given the opportunity to prove himself. That opportunity came from the Bulldogs.
Second, he says the most important thing that has helped his hockey career has been being a well-rounded athlete. Shepard emphasizes that putting away the hockey gear in the offseason is vital. In high school, when the hockey season was over, he would put the pads away and pick up the baseball glove. He notes that it is important not to get sick of the sport and that requires taking a break from it and not devoting every thought to it. Shepard says that when talking with his father, they rarely discuss hockey, rather they talk about baseball, hunting, or fishing. This has helped him be able to pursue other hobbies and to not burn out his passion for hockey.
Shepard also says that he has been fortunate to play hockey in three great hockey towns: Duluth, Bismarck, and Grand Rapids. His experiences in all three places has led him to where he is now. In the Grand Rapids youth and high school hockey systems, he became used to large workloads. Due to the small number of goaltenders in the area, Shepard was able to play on “A” teams all throughout his years in Grand Rapids and played in nearly every game for his teams. He says “you can’t substitute game experience,” so these times were crucial in helping him develop into the goalie he is today.
Despite opportunities to go elsewhere, Shepard will be returning to the University of Minnesota Duluth for his senior season. He says that the close proximity to his family is one major reason that led to this decision. Another reason is that he has decided to prove loyal to the coaching staff and teammates that have been loyal to him.
Shepard’s mindset going into his final collegiate season is “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” He intends to continue working hard, proving those who doubt him and his team wrong, and leaving everything out on the table, so he may continue his success and play the game he loves for as long as he possibly can.
Q and A with Hunter Shepard
What has most contributed to your success?
I’m a super competitive person, work ethic, not big, got passed up by teams, sticking with it, took a long time to get an offer.
How is the environment at UMD different from Grand Rapids?
Not totally different, great hockey towns, first time in my life I have gotten to play with a greatly talented team, lots of depth, great coaches.
Did you have a different mindset going into college hockey?
It’s nice knowing you don’t have to play a perfect game, stay relaxed.
How did Grand Rapids hockey help prepare you?
There wasn’t any goalies above me, only two others in class, was able to play on A team in every game. You can’t substitute game experience, used to large workload, the more I play the better I play, playing on good teams in Rapids and not so good teams, and taking lots of shots.
Why did you decide to stay at UMD another year?
Having grandparents and parents nearby has been a huge part of my career, Duluth is just like an extension of Bismarck and Grand Rapids, coaches gave me a shot originally and were loyal to me, I want to show loyalty back to them.
How are you going to approach next year?
If it’s not broke don’t fix it, I’m proving people wrong. I left USHL to go to Bismarck, people in Rapids didn’t agree with that, but there’s always people that will doubt you, it’s a fluke, people will think he isn’t the best goalie in college hockey or best team in college hockey.
What are your future goals?
Want to play hockey as long as I can, sports is our whole life. I want to play in NHL, leave everything out on table and would love to coach.
Big part of my success throughout my career has been being a well-rounded athlete, I played baseball, don’t get sick of the sport. I didn’t have pressure to be all about hockey with family, having those other interests.