Lone senior leads quietly from blue line

Seth Helgeson makes an impact without putting up big numbers.

Drew Claussen

Fans who would like to see Saturday’s senior night presentation at Mariucci Arena better not leave their seat for any reason — it’s going to be a quick show.

The No. 2 Gophers have only one senior to honor, defenseman Seth Helgeson.

“This will probably be the fastest [Senior Night] in history,” Helgeson said. “It’s probably going to take 30 seconds, so it’s not going to be such a distraction.”

The Gophers (21-6-5, 13-6-5 WCHA) will honor Helgeson on Saturday before the finale of a two-game series with Denver.

Helgeson was part of a four-player freshman class for the Gophers in 2009-10 that included Zach Budish, Nick Leddy and Josh Birkholz.

Budish was awarded a medical redshirt after an injury and is a redshirt junior for the Gophers. Leddy left after one season for the pros, and Birkholz left after one season to play in the Western Hockey League.

A lot of fans may not notice Helgeson much on the ice, but head coach Don Lucia says that may be a good thing.

“He’s just a guy that’s kind of an anchor back there and does his job quietly,” Lucia said. “He’s not the type of player that’s going to get a lot of notoriety because of the way he plays.

“For Seth, when you don’t notice him, that’s when he’s at his best.”

Being the only senior may mean Helgeson is one of the few players who can truly appreciate the Gophers’ success the past two seasons.

Minnesota finished seventh and fifth, respectively, in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings his first two years on campus.

“It was hard at times,” Helgeson said. “Over the past two years, it’s just been a great reward.”

Helgeson has seven goals and 18 assists in his Gophers career — fewer total points than six Gophers players have scored just this season.

“Obviously, I’m not going to be out there putting numbers like Nate Schmidt or anything,” Helgeson said. “I’ve accepted that role over the four years that I’ve been here. It’s not going to be my role to go out there and score goals.”

But Helgeson leads the Gophers in two statistical categories this season: penalties (24) and penalty minutes (56).

A lot of those penalties were roughing minors he got while using his 6-foot-4-inch, 215-pound frame to defend his smaller teammates.

“Honestly, I dare anyone to throw a cheap shot on me, and [Helgeson] will be right there,” sophomore defenseman Ben Marshall said.

Helgeson has played in 114 straight games for Minnesota and 142 games overall. He has provided consistency among a blue line that, aside from juniors Schmidt and Mark Alt, is made up of freshmen and sophomores.

“I think my leadership role expanded last year,” Helgeson said. “Coach [Mike] Guentzel really put that on me last year.”

Marshall, who has been Helgeson’s defensive partner for most of the season, said he has enjoyed playing with the Faribault, Minn., native.

“He’s really stable, and he lets me do my thing out there,” Marshall said. “I like to be offensive, and he understands that, but when I screw up he’s always back there to help me out.”

Marshall called his defensive partner one of the toughest guys on the team and said some of Helgeson’s toughness has rubbed off on him.

“You can’t play soft when you’re with [him],” Marshall said.

Schmidt said he was impressed with Helgeson’s ability to be easygoing away from the rink and “flip a switch and be totally dialed in” when he steps onto the ice.

With two weekends left in the regular season, Helgeson said he has taken a few walks down memory lane.

“I love it here so much,” he said, “I could stay for another four years.”