UMD Ready, With Or Without Soucy
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CHICAGO On March 3, 2017, Minnesota-Duluth fell to Western Michigan, 7-4. On that same night, Carson Soucy got injured. With his absence the Bulldogs lost one of their best defensemen and a leader. The senior had played in 145 games for the Bulldogs before his injury, totaling 47 points. Despite only playing in 33 games before getting injured, Soucy recorded a career-high 15 points.
“Devastating,” freshman defenseman Nick Wolff said. “He’s a big asset to our team and our D corps, so when that happened we were kind of worried. It’s just right coming into the playoff stretch we were worried about our future.”
The defense still had options without Soucy, including upperclassmen defensemen Willie Raskob — who partnered with Soucy — Dan Molenaar and Brenden Kotyk. Prior to Soucy’s injury, Neal Pionk and Wolff were the only two underclassmen roaming Minnesota-Duluth’s blue line. And Wolff was the only freshman.
“He’s been a huge guy for us all year, he’s played big minutes and he’s a big leader on our team,” Raskob said. “As a fellow senior, I just felt for him because I would not want to be in that situation.”
Soucy’s absence forced freshman Jarod Hilderman into the lineup but also pushed the other defenders to play more minutes — including his classmate Wolff.
“For me personally, I was told I was going to have to play more minutes and it’s something I took the challenge of and I wanted to do it,” Raskob said.
“Playing more minutes, it’s easier to stay in the game and get into a good flow so that was good. But [Wolff] stepped up and played more minutes and he’s been really good. He’s done his job he knows what he’s doing up there and [Hilderman] too, those two guys are guys who’ve stepped up for us.”
Wolff was one of the players Sandelin said has played better than expected. In 35 games, Wolff has netted 12 points — including a three-point effort in Minnesota-Duluth’s playoff-series clinching win over Miami.
“He's been a really pleasant surprise and has gotten better and in Carson's absence he's gotten some more minutes in some different situations which I think have helped him,” Sandelin said last week.
Hilderman began by playing with Wolff, creating an all-freshman defensive pair. The combinations shifted after that, and at one point included forward Adam Johnson dressing with Pionk. The pairings settled after that, and Raskob took Hilderman on his pairing while Wolff played with senior Dan Molenaar.
“We have really deep, we play five, six D and with Hilderman stepping up, having been a six D spot, is huge,” Wolff said. “I just felt that I needed to play my role and play more steady and strong and I think I did that.”
Said Raskob: “Wolffy’s done a good job at listening to the older guys and him and Dan have really gelled and became a good D pair.”
Sandelin did not say if Soucy would dress for Thursday’s semifinal game.
“We kind of held our own, did well,” Wolff said. “So with him back is just a huge, we needed him so it’s been really well without him but we’re looking forward to what he can do with us when he’s playing.”
The Bulldogs responded with a 6-3 in over Western Michigan and haven’t lost since. They’ve won seven in a row, including the NCHC Championship and the West Regional.
“It’s one of those things where our team’s character, we’ve been through a lot of tough things all year whether it’s been overtime games or losing tough losses, a couple tough losses, we just [have] a lot of good character in this room,” Raskob said. “For all of us it was something to rally around and come together and i know a lot of us wanted to get [Soucy] back in a sweater and hopefully he’s able to play this weekend.”