April 9, 2017 PRINT Bookmark and Share

UMD's Seniors Cope With Difficult Loss

 (photo: Joe Koshollek)

(photo: Joe Koshollek)

by Jashvina Shah/Staff Writer (@icehockeystick)

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CHICAGO — “So much,” was all Minnesota-Duluth senior Alex Iafallo could say about what his senior teammates meant to him.

It hadn’t even been 30 minutes since the Bulldogs couldn’t get the game-tying goal. It hadn’t even been 30 minutes since UMD watched Denver celebrate a national championship as the Bulldogs knelt on the ice. It hadn’t even been 30 minutes since Iafallo’s season had ended.

But there he was, in the locker room with the rest of his teammates, unable to take off his jersey.

Iafallo paused. “Sorry,” he whispered before he turned his head into his right hand and cried. His tears could barely be heard over the shifting of players and media throughout the locker room, but a few tears were audible as Iafallo covered his eyes with his right hand.

“It’s my whole life,” Iafallo said. “The last four years here. Met so many good people. The city of Duluth, owe it to all those guys, the fans, family and friends you make. I couldn’t have been put in a better spot than here, this place, this culture has been bar none. I look around here in the room I just see a bunch of brothers and couldn’t be more proud to be a Bulldog right now.”

The locker room scene mimicked Iafallo — desolate players still wearing their UMD gear, sitting at their stalls, mostly in silence. A few were crying quietly while others just stared into space, a typical scene post-championship, but no less heartbreaking. Some players stood up and gave each other hugs, sidestepping a few stray pieces of equipment that had ended up on the ground.

The whiteboard near the locker room entrance, which had been filled with inside jokes and phrases on Friday, had been wiped clean. The smiles had left the faces of the players. No one laughed, no one joked. UMD had been just two goals away from having their season end differently.

But for the seniors, it was especially difficult. Iafallo was just one of several seniors sitting in his stall, still dressed in his Bulldog jersey. Just a few seats down, Iafallo’s roommate and one of his closest friends, spoke with red eyes as tears spilled down his cheeks as he spoke of his classmates.

“They mean the world. Four years here has been an amazing experience,” Willie Raskob said. “I could talk on and on about all of them, each one, every one of them, they’re amazing people. Great hockey players. But what makes them special is what they’re like off the ice and incredibly blessed to spend four years with them and we’ll be friends forever.”

Across from Iafallo sat Carson Soucy, the senior alternate captain who had just returned to play his final two games as a Bulldog. Soucy couldn’t speak without crying, each sentence short and littered with sobs.

“It’s everything,” Soucy said through tears of his time at UMD.

On March 3, Soucy suffered an injury that sidelined him for the rest of the regular season. The Bulldogs, hoping he would return, pressed on. They won the next seven games without Soucy, including two regional contests.

“When he got injured and we didn’t know if he’d be able to play again, that was pretty tough,” freshman Joey Anderson said. “Once we found out that he could potentially play here we made sure we wanted to get to here so we could have him back in a Bulldog sweater for us.”

There was no guarantee Soucy would be back for the Frozen Four, but he was cleared by puck drop of UMD’s semifinal game.

“I kind of had a feeling I wanted to play even if I wasn't 100 percent, so I did everything I could,” Soucy said.

“I’m a little tired I guess now that it’s over but I don’t know, can’t ask for much more. When you get that adrenaline going you’re fine.”

So for two last games, Soucy laced up his skates and pulled on his maroon and gold Bulldog jersey.

“It was incredible,” Raskob said. “Carson’s been my D partner for three years now. To see him go down was devastating. I was pretty upset. Don’t want to see someone you care about go down like that, but to be able get him back in a Bulldog sweater here and finish his career the right way ... Would’ve loved to be holding the trophy with him, but to get him back in a sweater was definitely a goal of us.”

Scattered in between Raskob and Iafallo sat Anderson, quietly staring to the center of the locker room.

“They’re incredible,” Anderson said. “They’re the heart and soul of this locker room and that’s probably the most devastating part of this. We wanted to win so badly for them and to come up a little bit short is just — it’s a tough pill to swallow right now.”

The seniors finished their season short of a national championship, but they left a legacy of success for the Bulldogs. They were the first class at UMD to play all four years in the NCHC and finished their careers with three NCAA tournament appearances and 86 wins.

“They’re family,” Soucy said. “I lived with most of them for the last four years and can’t say enough good things about them.”

But the best of all seasons came this year, when the Bulldogs won the NCHC tournament and made it back to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2011, when the Bulldogs won their first championship.

“[They’re a] special group of guys, top to bottom there,” junior captain Karson Kuhlman said. “It starts with Dom, our captain, our leader, trickles down. You've got character guys. It's been great for our younger guys to see how to play, how to manage games. I think a lot can be learned from that senior class. The three years I was with them was special and I love those guys to death.”

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