It’s been an eventful 2018-19 season for Minnesota Duluth freshman Noah Cates.
Following his final year with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL in which he finished with 55 points, Cates returned to his home state for his debut campaign with the Bulldogs, who are currently the 4th-ranked team in the nation with a record of 18-8-2.
The Stillwater, MN native has recorded six goals and nine assists thus far, and is clearly enjoying his time in Duluth playing alongside some of the top talent in the country, including his brother Jackson.
“It’s awesome, you play with a lot of good players here, so it’s a lot of fun,” Cates said. “Playing with them and obviously against them in practice we get better every day. They’re good guys to be around and I love being in the locker room with them, but at the end of the day when you’re practicing against them and competing the whole team is getting better.”
Growing up playing hockey every summer with current teammates Mikey Anderson, Dylan Samberg and Matt Anderson, Cates pointed to team chemistry as one of the key components in UMD’s recent run of good form. Following a weekend split with No. 7 Denver, the Bulldogs have won six of their last eight.
“When we’re in the offensive zone everyone’s on the same page. We’re all moving and supporting each other and we’re really tough to defend,” Cates said. “We kind of have to work harder to get the puck, we’ve gotta forecheck a little harder, so that’s kind of our motto. Just getting after it and playing hard and not being afraid to make mistakes.”
Of course, Cates has missed a couple of UMD games this year due to some “national” business to take care of. The 6-2, 185-pound forward was a member of the U.S National Junior Team that won the silver medal in this year’s World Junior Championship in Vancouver.
Having grown up watching the prestigious tournament every year, his dream of one day getting his own chance to play on that stage was suddenly a real possibility.
“Getting the invite to the camp and then doing pretty well there it was looking like it was gonna become a reality,” he said. “When it finally came true it was unbelievable. I called my parents and told them, everyone was so excited for me and obviously I was really excited to get started with the tournament with that group.”
Despite not achieving the team’s ultimate goal after falling to Finland 3-2 in the gold-medal game, Cates called the experience “one of the best moments of my life.”
“It was such a fun tournament, just being around those guys for a whole month,” he said. “When you’re around that kind of skill and those elite players for a whole month, you can’t help but get better.
“Coming away from that I feel like I got a lot better and more confident and I’ve kind of gone from there here in Duluth, but I’ll never forget that tournament.”
Drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the fifth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Cates was one of four Flyers draft picks to be on the U.S. roster, making Philly the most represented team. He was joined by Joel Farabee (Boston University), Jay O’Brien (Providence) and Jack St. Ivany (Yale).
“Obviously I’m a lot more comfortable with those guys than some other guys, just from meeting all three of them this past year at the development camp,” Cates said. “They’re unbelievable players so it was fun to play with them.”
As a member of the Flyers’ farm system, Cates has already participated in summer development camps and is taking things a day at a time as he strives to become the best player he can be.
“At the development camps in the summer we’re all working on some things and checking out their facilities and seeing how they run things,” he said. “You take a lot from it, you do a lot of good skill work so it’s a lot of fun that week.”
In regard to what type of improvements he would like to make moving forward, Cates singled out skating as the biggest one.
“If I can get more comfortable with skating with the puck and just look a little more in control so it looks a little smoother and not wasting as much energy, I think that can help me be an effective player as I move up the ladder with skating,” he said.
Although Cates admitted it was too soon to be talking about any sort of promotion throughout the ranks of Philly’s farm system, the freshman remains under the close watch of development coaches.
“Throughout the year up in Duluth they’ll come to a couple games and talk to you and see how I’m doing and checking in to see how your game progresses,” he said. They’re taking it day by day and helping me develop so hopefully one day I can get to that level.”