Local players helping UMD in postseason run
Nick Wolff experienced the premier event in Minnesota high school hockey when he played in the state tournament. He’s about to take part in something similar in college.
Wolff, an Eagan High School graduate and freshman defenseman at Minnesota Duluth, will play for the Bulldogs in the NCAA Frozen Four beginning Thursday in Chicago. UMD takes on Harvard in a semifinal game at 5 p.m. at the United Center.
It’s all happened quickly for Wolff, who came to Duluth just hoping to make some kind of contribution in his first season. Now he’s getting regular ice time and has 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) in 35 games. Both of his goals have come in the postseason, including one in UMD’s 3-2 overtime victory over Ohio State in the NCAA West Regional semifinals.
“I’m very appreciative, very thankful for the opportunity I’ve gotten here,” Wolff said in a phone interview last week. “It’s one of the best programs in the country. A lot of people say our conference (National Collegiate Hockey Conference) is the best in college hockey.
“We have a lot of good players here, and to be in the lineup has been a blessing. I’m a fifth or sixth ‘D’ and I’m happy with that because I didn’t know how much I’d play my first year.”
Wolff was a captain of the 2014 Eagan High team that finished third in the state Class AA tournament. He played nine games with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League as a high school senior, then rejoined the Buccaneers for two full seasons before starting at UMD.
Wolff committed to Minnesota Duluth shortly after the start of his first full season in Des Moines. There never was much question about where he would play college hockey. His parents, Ron and Cyndi, are UMD graduates and his brother Joe also attended the university.
“I did visit a couple of other schools,” Wolff said, “but assuming UMD wanted me, no, there was never any doubt about where I was going. None at all.”
He is one of two players with ties to the Sun Thisweek and Dakota County Tribune coverage area that will compete in the Frozen Four. The other is Wolff’s UMD teammate, senior Kyle Osterberg, a Lakeville native who played one season at Lakeville South High School. Osterberg played in all 40 of the Bulldogs games this season and is sixth on the team in scoring with 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists). He has 79 points in four seasons with the Bulldogs, including 14 goals in his freshman season.
Osterberg scored 63 points as a Lakeville South freshman in 2009-10, then spent two years with the U.S. National Team Development Program and one with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL before starting his college career.
Wolff (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) said his role is to be a steady, responsible defensive player. Any offense is a bonus. He described his goal in the regional game against Ohio State as happening almost by accident.
“I give all the credit to our forwards. They had a hell of a shift; they were in the offensive zone the whole time,” Wolff said. “They got it to my defense partner (Willie Raskob) and he made a nice D-to-D pass. When I shot, I was hoping to get it past the first line of defense and maybe get a rebound, but I don’t think their goalie saw it.”
Wolff lettered four times in hockey at Eagan. He also earned three letters in football and one in golf.
“If there’s anything I’d tell a high school athlete, it’s that you don’t have to play just one sport,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to try new things. I really felt it helped me to be an all-around athlete.”
UMD, 27-6-7 overall, goes into the Frozen Four as one of the nation’s hottest teams. The Bulldogs are 15-1-3 in their last 19 games and have been tested under pressure.
“We’ve been in a lot of one-goal and overtime games lately,” Wolff said, “and we’ve been able to keep our focus going. We’ve kept playing the way we need to.”
The UMD-Harvard winner plays Denver or Notre Dame in the championship game Saturday night. UMD has been in the Frozen Four four other times and won the national title on its last trip there in 2011. In that season, the Bulldogs defeated Michigan 3-2 in the championship game at Xcel Energy Center. One of the top forwards on that UMD squad was Rosemount High School graduate J.T. Brown, now in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
This week’s Frozen Four could make two other players from Dakota County national champions. Whatever happens, it’s been a good run for alumni of the 2013-14 Eagan High Wildcats, several of whom have been impact players in college.
“Tom Muck, who’s one of my best friends, is playing well at Bemidji State,” Wolff said. “Andrew Lindgren, our starting goalie, is playing at St. John’s and loving it. And I couldn’t be happier with the way it’s worked out for me.”