Ben Blood is blossoming as a sophomore at the University of North Dakota. The defender is playing on the top pairing, is scoring at a higher rate, and is playing a more physical brand of hockey than he did in his freshman year. Ottawa’s fourth-round pick in 2007, he was the team’s Most Improved Player last year, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say he could be nominated for it again this year.
The 6’3 220-pound Minnesota native’s preferred method of defense is to hit his opponent, taking them out of the play. It’s very effective, and he has a +4 to show for it.
Blood has three goals and three assists in 21 games. He can move the puck up to the forwards effectively, and is seeing time on the power play, especially with captain Chay Genoway out of the line-up. But offense isn’t really Blood’s calling card.
"I’m definitely not the triggerman," he said of his work on the power play.
Blood has 54 penalty minutes, up dramatically from just 12 in all of last season.
Hockey’s Future spoke to the 20-year-old Blood following North Dakota’s shootout loss to Notre Dame in the Shillelagh Tournament.
"We’re two good ballclubs," Blood said of the game. "We expected a grudge match, we expected a war out there and it was."
HF: Do you feel like things are coming together for you as a sophomore?
BB: Yeah, things are coming together a lot for me, I’m really happy with where I’m at right now. Last year was a bit of a struggle to try to get comfortable out there, get my footing. This year I feel a lot more confident out on the ice and I think that’s showing with my play.
HF: Have you been playing with Andrew MacWilliam (TOR) a lot?
BB: No, I was paired with Chay Genoway at the beginning of the year and he got hurt. We want him to get back here soon and then I don’t know how the pairings will go, but I do like playing with Mac a lot. We’ve been together since the St. Cloud series (in mid-November).
HF: Are you kind of showing him the ropes since he’s a freshman?
BB: No, not at all, I think he’s doing fine, he’s figuring it out on his own. We both have each other’s backs out there. We pick each other up if we have a bad shift or whatever, but no, I’m not taking him under my wing or anything, he knows how to play. He’s a good player.
HF: What do you think is the most important lesson for a defenseman to learn when they start college hockey?
BB: Patience. You’re not going to score the game-winning goal the first game, you’re not necessarily guaranteed points or anything, you’ve just got to take it as it comes, keep it simple I guess. Play strong in your D zone and try to do the little things, don’t try to do too much. That’s what i strugged with a little bit last year, trying to do too much on the ice. When I started to simplify my game a bit, like I have this year, I started to make better plays, got more confident and it just kind of snowballed from there.
HF: How much more ice time are you getting this year?
BB: Last year I had a smaller role all around. I had a good summer, I was working hard this summer and it showed on the ice so the coaches let me kind of run with it a bit. I have a larger role with the team and I like that a lot, I like being one of our go-to guys in the D zone. I like going against the top guys on the other team and shutting them down. I’m playing a lot more this year.
HF: How much more power play time are you getting?
BB: Last year I wasn’t on the power play at all. I wasn’t even on the PK, just kind of a five-on-five guy, getting comfortable out there.
HF: You seem like someone who’s pretty intense, is that a fair assessment?
BB: When the scoreboard’s on, I want to do everything I can to come away with a victory. Off the ice, I feel I’m a pretty laid-back guy, first in line for fun, just hanging out with the guys. I’m really laid back away from the rink. When I’m at the rink, it’s time for hockey, time to go to work, but as soon as I leave I like to relax a bit.
HF: Have you been to Ottawa’s summer camps?
BB: Yeah I have. I’ve gone for the past three years and I plan on going back this summer.
HF: Have they been giving you advice?
BB: No, they’re kind of letting me figure it out on my own, I like that. They’re letting me do my own thing, play my own game. When I go there they’re not pressuring me. If I need advice, they’re there for me. If I need help, I’ve got guys that I can call. They’ve been great so far.
HF: What do you feel like you need to work on the most before you turn pro?
BB: I don’t know, just getting better every day I guess. Doing the little things. Being consistent, playing simple on the ice. My focus is here right now with these guys and winning a championship.