2016 NCAA Frozen Four: North Dakota’s Wolanin blazing own path to pro game

By DJ Powers
Christian Wolanin - University of North Dakota

Photo: University of North Dakota defenseman and Ottawa Senators prospect Christian Wolanin celebrates one of the four goals he has scored in the 2015-16 campaign (courtesy of Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)



Sons of former NHL players are a unique breed. They are privy to what life can be like playing in the top professional league in the world. But, while most choose to follow in the footsteps of their fathers, not all follow the same path.

Such is the case with University of North Dakota freshman defenseman Christian Wolanin.

The Rochester, MI native is the son of former NHL defenseman Craig Wolanin. As the younger Wolanin explains, having a 13-year NHL veteran as your father has been a blessing in ways that you might not expect.

“He’s never pressured me to play hockey or has forced me to live up what he’s achieved,” said the younger Wolanin of his father. “He’s never put all that on me. He just tells me that I have my career and he’s had his. So I give him all the credit for where I am now. I do hope that one day I’ll be able to do what he’s done.”

One of the steps in that process was being drafted in the fourth round, 107th overall, by the Ottawa Senators in 2015.

“My dad was very helpful in helping me get through it,” Wolanin said of going through the NHL Draft process. “He’s just been unbelievable with it. My current coaches, Brad Berry and Dane Jackson, had both played in the NHL too, so if they’re telling me things that may not connect with me, then I can call my dad and he can help me with it.”

Wolanin did not attend the Senators’ development camp last summer due to academic commitments at North Dakota. He does plan to attend the camp this coming summer.

Although Wolanin is a defenseman like his father was, he notes that the two of them are different types of defensemen.

“I’m more of an offensive defenseman whereas my dad was more of a shutdown defenseman.”

At North Dakota, Wolanin is trying to establish his own identity. He has played in 31 of the Fighting Hawks 43 games so far. Although he is not playing every night, Wolanin takes it all in stride and understands that it is part of the growing process and his time will come.

“To be honest, it’s tough but it’s also something that you deal with,” said the frosh defender. “It’s part of the process and part of being a freshman. I think the situation for me this season happened for a reason. If I have to sit for a game or more, I just have to be patient because my time will come eventually. I just have to have a good attitude about it and be a good teammate. If we’re winning without me in the lineup, then there are no complaints coming from me (Laughs).”

When Wolanin has been in the lineup, he has seen time playing alongside either sophomore Tucker Poolman (WPG) or junior Keaton Thompson (ANA). As Wolanin explains, he enjoys playing with both defensemen and has been able to learn from them as well.

“They’re both really good players,” Wolanin said of his defense partners. “Tucker is very athletic. He’s kind of like a freak of nature as far as defensemen go (Laughs). He makes things a lot easier for me because of how athletic he is. Keaton is an experienced guy that can make it comfortable for you as his defensive partner. His playmaking ability has helped me a lot and I’ve learned a lot from him about how to move the puck. So, it’s been fun playing with both of those guys.”

Depending on how things play out with both offseason departures and incoming freshmen in the fall, Wolanin could find himself thrust into a bigger role with North Dakota next season. And that can only aid in his pursuit to reach the pro ranks as his father had done three decades ago.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF