Seth Helgeson taking on leadership role with Minnesota

By DJ Powers
Photo: Seth Helgeson has been one of the top defensive defensemen in the nation in 2011-12. (Photo courtesy of Josh Holmberg/Icon SMI)

University of Minnesota junior defenseman Seth Helgeson (NJ) has become one of the college hockey's best defensive defensemen. This season he is part of a well-balanced Golden Gophers blue line that has contributed in a variety of different ways to help Minnesota get to the Frozen Four.

Hockey's Future spoke with Helgeson after practice on Wednesday at the Tampa Times Forum.

Hockey's Future: It's been a few years since Minnesota has been in the Frozen Four, so how does it feel to be here?

Seth Helgeson: It's nice because it's the first time in my career that I've gone past the first round of the (NCAA) playoffs. And it's great for the seniors because it's the same way and it's their first Frozen Four too. So it's just an amazing feeling. No words can describe it. I'm just happy for our guys because it's been a great all-around effort.

HF: You guys had lost to your archrival, North Dakota in the WCHA Final Five, but beat them in the NCAA Tournament West Regional Final. Can you describe what the feeling was like beating North Dakota in the Regional knowing that a trip to the Frozen Four was at stake?

SH: After that loss in the Final Five, we took it pretty hard. But the next day, we went back to work. We thought that we might get a chance to play North Dakota in the NCAA Tournament Regionals. So when we played and beat them in the Regional Final, it was definitely a great feeling. It was awesome because they're out archrivals. It was just a huge game with great fan support, and just a great all-around effort by the guys. It was sweet revenge, that's for sure.

HF: You have grown into one of the WCHA's most dominant defenseman. Can you talk about the progress in your development and how you've been able to help to get the team to where they are today?

SH: For me through the years, it's been confidence. I've built up my confidence and have just been working hard at the different areas of the game. It's been great having Coach Guentzel come back this year too. That's was huge because he brings a lot great elements, and has taught (the defense) a lot of things that maybe we didn't know in the last couple of years. I've been able to uses a lot of the resources around the University of Minnesota, which has helped out throughout the years too.

HF: What are some of the things that Coach Mike Guentzel has taught you that have helped you to become a player?

SH: He was a defenseman here at the University of Minnesota as well, so that helps because he's had the experience of and knows what it's like being a defenseman here. But I think what he's done for me is bring out the little things that maybe some people tend to overlook, such as positioning and getting into shooting lanes, whether it's with my stick or my body. He just lets me build up confidence and play my game. He compliments you when you're doing things right, but at the same, if you do something wrong, he's there letting you know what you should've done better. He's just so great at teaching the game and how to play the game. He also takes a lot of time breaking down video, which is very helpful to us. Coach Guentzel is just always there to talk to you and helping you.

Coach Guentzel gives (the defense) the confidence to just go out and play our game. During the practice, and I know that it's a big thing, he holds everyone accountable. But at the same time, he lets you play. It's been a great season so far for the "D" corps so far because we've all improved ourselves under Coach Guentzel. I think at the beginning of the year that might have been one of the question marks on our team, but we really proved ourselves throughout the year.

I think with the way that Coach Guentzel coaches us, we know that we have a responsibility, as a group, to play a defensively sound game, whether it's blocking shots or whatever. He'll let you know if you aren't playing well defensively, but at the same time, he allows us to chip in offensively as much as we can. I think as a whole "D" corps, we're just coming out of our element. We're just playing our game and doing anything that we can to win.

HF: You've been playing all year with Justin Holl (CHI) as part of Minnesota's top shutdown pairing. Can you talk about that great chemistry that the two of you have and just what makes it work so well?

SH: We didn't play with each other last year, so it's been new for us. Justin is a good skater and really good with the puck, so he knows I'll stay back if he jumps up into the play. He likes to rush the puck and I'm ok with that. I think he knows that he can do that, knowing that I'll stay back. So I think with that, we just sort of feed off of each other and are constantly communicating with one another. We both know what our job and role is. We're not going to be that big, offensive powerhouse pairing that's going to score the goals and get all the power play time. We know that our role is to shutdown the opposing team's top players.

HF: As a junior, you are the most experienced defenseman on the team. Do you enjoy being the leader/mentor type for the group?

SH: Yes. It's something new for me because last year I was one of the younger guys on our 'D' corps and now I'm the oldest guy. So it's kind of crazy. I'm there for the freshmen, and I can be a mentor to them, but at the same time I have to be one of the guys that needs to stand up and just put my two cents into things. I'm not the most vocal guy (Laughs), but I do say things when I have to. We're a pretty tight group back there and we're pretty comfortable with each other too.

HF: What do you feel you need to improve before making the jump to the pro game?

SH: I think just getting better skating-wise. I think I need to get quicker and just keep working at my skating overall because it's so critical at (the professional level) with the speed and the pace being faster. I also just want to continue to work on my all-around game. I want to be more confident and prepared, as work further on my puck skills too.

HF: Many players who need to work on their skating will either take skating lessons or attend some type of skating school. If time allows you to do so in the off-season, do you plan on doing anything like that?

SH: Yes, and it's convenient at the University of Minnesota because professional players come back and workout there. There's a skating coach named Diane Ness, who actually works with the New Jersey Devils that is regularly here at the university. Her work is based out of the twin cities. I know that the pro guys all like her being here working at the rink with them. And she works with us too. I worked with her last summer too. She's helped me improve my stride and just my all-around skating. In our weight room, we also have a "skating treadmill", so I work with that as well. We just have many resources for that (skating development) at the university, so that really helps me.

HF: Did you enjoy your time at the Devils prospects camp last summer getting to work with the likes of Scott Stevens and what did you learn while you were there?

SH: It was awesome! It was also really nice going there with my former teammate Mike Hoeffel too. It was just a difference experience for me being there. You've got guys from college, juniors, and even guys that have played in the AHL too. It provided for just some great competition and a great variety of players. It was also great just getting to know some of these guys and some of the coaches. I learned some great things from guys like Scott Stevens and Larry Robinson. It was just awesome having those guys around because they were able to share their experiences with us. As coaches, they helped us throughout the week. You learn about things that maybe you might have not known about before that. So, the experience was great and I can't wait to go again this summer. It'll be my third year going to it.

HF: What were some of the things that you learned from the camp last summer that you've been able to bring to the University of Minnesota this year?

SH: I think the one thing I learned is that if you make one mistake; they're not going to harp on you about it. You just have to move forward. In the past, I would be really hard on myself for making a mistake. When I see some of these other players making mistakes, they're able to simply put it behind them and move forward. They don't really dwell on it. If you did make a mistake there (Devils camp), other guys were there to provided some support and would sometimes pick you up if you got too down yourself and tell you to move forward. So that was probably biggest thing that I was able to bring back with me.

HF: Have the Devils been keeping tabs on you throughout the season?

SH: Yes. I know that they're there, but what makes them such a great organization is that they don't bother you during the season, which is awesome. They don't get in the way of anything that I'm trying to do here at Minnesota. I know that they come to the games, but it's nice that they don't put that added pressure on me to let me know that they're there. They know that my number one priority is what I'm doing at the University of Minnesota right now. They're just a real great, classy organization.

HF: For the readers who aren't familiar with you and your style of play, can you describe the type of player you are and what your role is on the Golden Gophers blue line?

SH: My primary job is to be a solid defensive defenseman. I'm not going to be a player that's going to be rushing the puck and doing all of that. But I think I'm comfortable with my offensive ability and shooting the puck. My job is to simply play a good, all-around sound defensive game. It's my job is to not allow the opposing team to score goals, and making that good first pass and getting it up to the forwards and maybe then jump into plays. But overall, it's just being that main stay-at-home defensive defenseman that is comfortable with his offensive abilities, but at the same time will be physical too. I think that's one of the biggest things that I bring to my game. I like being a physical presence and I like to hit.

HF: Do you feel that those are going to be primary attributes that you'll be able to bring to the New Jersey Devils down the road?

SH: Yes, definitely. That's kind of like the mainstay of my game. I've been working for the past three years on getting very good at that. Obviously, there are always things to improve, but being a very good stay-at-home defensive defenseman at the pro level is my main goal because I'll probably be that for the rest of my career. You always see these guys on the highlight reels scoring goals, and that's fine by me because I'll be in the back (Laughs).

Jared Ramsden contributed to this article.