Ex-UMD star Carson Soucy making an impact with Iowa Wild
DES MOINES, Iowa — While Bulldogs fans cheered Carson Soucy's decision in 2016 to return to Minnesota Duluth for his senior season, newly hired Iowa Wild coach Derek Lalonde was crushed.
Not only was Soucy unavailable for 2016-17, but there was a chance the Minnesota Wild's 2013 fifth-round draft pick could test free agency and never sign with the organization.
Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin told Lalonde not to worry. Soucy would sign with the Wild, just not yet.
"Sandy said, 'He's staying another year. I'll drive him straight to you the day after the season is over,'" Lalonde recalled. "And Sandy is a guy you believe."
Sure enough, Sandelin delivered within days of the Bulldogs' 2016-17 season ending in the NCAA Division I title game. Soucy signed and Lalonde had the 6-foot-4, 210-pound defenseman he saw as a key component to turning around the organization's top minor-league affiliate, which since moving to Des Moines had experienced little to no success in its first three seasons.
Soucy isn't just "a winner" but "a guy you win and build around," Lalonde said.
"He could go into an NHL game right now and be fine," Lalonde said earlier this month prior to a team practice. "Like many prospects, we want him to go in there and be as comfortable as possible and maybe never come back."
Thanks to an extended season for the Bulldogs in 2016-17 that didn't end until mid-April, Soucy only played three games for the Iowa Wild last spring. And that was almost the end of his American Hockey League career and time with Lalonde.
Soucy was one of the last cuts for the Minnesota Wild out of training camp, not getting sent down until the end of September. At the time, Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said of Soucy: "He's a young guy that needs to play. He's going to go down there and play. He's going to gain experience."
And Soucy has been getting plenty of experience in Iowa. Maybe too much, Lalonde said.
Soucy has a goal, four assists, 29 penalty minutes and an even plus-minus rating in 30 games. He is playing on one of Iowa's top two defensive pairings each night and on the top penalty-killing unit as well. The result is sometimes 23-24 minutes a night on the ice. All that ice time for the 23-year-old rookie has led to mistakes, but it's typical growth for a legit NHL prospect, Lalonde said.
"He's already playing to his identity to what he wants to be in the National Hockey League," Lalonde said. "He wants to be a shutdown defenseman. He can pitch in some offense with the right decisions and in the right way, but be hard to play against, be a good defender and get the puck out of the zone."
Soucy said as a rookie he's concentrating on his defensive abilities and shutting down opposing team's top players. He's also adjusting to the professional lifestyle after four years of college.
For one, he has a lot more free time without any classes to attend. At the same time, a professional schedule is much more of a grind than an NCAA schedule with longer road trips and weeks with up to four games.
Friday's home game against Grand Rapids was Iowa's eighth game in a 14-day span, including five on the road.
"Playing all those games is fun," Soucy said. "You don't have to practice as much. We get out here, we practice, we do our work for about 45 minutes. Ultimately you are getting ready for those games and you want to perform in those games as much as you can."
Lalonde said Soucy has made a huge impact thus far in Iowa, which is making a push toward its first playoff berth since the AHL franchise moved from Houston to Des Moines in 2013, when it also changed its name from the Aeros to Wild. Going into Friday's game, Iowa was second in the Central Division and third in the Western Conference.
Iowa was last in its division during its first three seasons in Des Moines with the worst record in the AHL the two seasons prior to Lalonde's arrival. Iowa had its first winning season in Des Moines a year ago with former Bulldogs goaltender Alex Stalock — now with the NHL's Wild — backstopping the team to a 36-31-7 mark.
Lalonde said Soucy would have been one of the top defensemen on that team and on the first penalty-kill unit, too, had he left college early.
But Lalonde is well aware of what four years in college can do for a player. He was an NCAA assistant for eight seasons, helping Ferris State win a Central Collegiate Hockey Association title and Denver win two WCHA crowns.
Lalonde said that senior season in Duluth was valuable for Soucy, who battled through injuries to play in a Frozen Four.
"The development through those four years and working with UMD has helped my game tremendously," Soucy said. "It was an honor to play there. I definitely don't regret going back for that fourth year. That extra development helped."
UMD men's alumni in the pros
J.T. Brown (2010-12), Tampa Bay Lightning
Justin Faulk (2010-11), Carolina Hurricanes
Alex Iafallo (2013-17), Los Angeles Kings
Matt Niskanen (2005-07), Washington Capitals
Alex Stalock (2006-09), Minnesota Wild
Andy Welinski (2012-16), Anaheim Ducks
Tony Cameranesi (2012-16), Utica Comets
Chris Casto (2011-13), Chicago Wolves
Willie Corrin (2012-2016), Laval Rocket
Jason Garrison (2005-08), Chicago Wolves
Caleb Herbert (2011-14), Hartford Wolf Pack
Adam Johnson (2015-17), Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
Kasimir Kaskisuo (2014-16), Chicago Wolves
Adam Krause (2011-15), Rochester Americans
Hunter Miska (2016-17), Tucson Roadrunners
Dylan Olsen (2009-11), Binghamton Devils
Neal Pionk (2015-17), Hartford Wolfpack
Dominic Toninato (2013-17), San Antonio Rampage
Carson Soucy (2013-17), Iowa Wild