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Dalpe Finding Identity, Taking Advantage Of Time

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

Most hockey players have defined roles on a team, but those roles aren't always the same ones they filled growing up, or even on a former team.

Zac Dalpe was a goal-scorer playing his college hockey at Ohio State. He also has 84 goals in 230 career AHL games.

But Dalpe said as he attempts to carve out a consistent role for himself in the NHL and with the Wild, it isn't necessarily about figuring out how to score his goals.

"For me, it's kind of finding my identity," Dalpe said. "I'm starting my seventh year pro, and I am a bit of a goal-scorer in the AHL, but at times I've come up here and been put into a different role. Every kid wants to play in the NHL, and the role I want to accept is that dependable guy that can play some good minutes, and penalty kill, and hopefully I can do that for this team this year."

Dalpe was on the Wild's opening training camp roster, but missed the start of camp last week after his mother passed away. He played in his first preseason game Thursday against the Blue Jackets after getting a few days of practice under his belt.

"I had a tough week while I wasn't here, so I knew it was going to be a tough couple of days, and it was, and [I was] happy to get into a game," Dalpe said.

And Dalpe wasn't eased into his first postseason game with limited minutes. He skated 14:25 and took 21 shifts, getting his name called regularly on the bench.

"I don't think I've ever been out there this much at this level," Dalpe said. "The opportunity was there with a couple of guys going down, and I was fortunate enough to get out there. I felt comfortable, and got into a groove right away, and stuck with it."

Dalpe may have been off on the official numbers, but his time on ice and frequent deployment Thursday night were rare. Dalpe has played in 117 career NHL regular season games. He has four career games in which he's logged over 14:25 of ice time, and five in which he's taken more than 21 shifts. His last such game was April 9, 2013 for the Carolina Hurricanes.

"It's nice to get a regular shift and get involved, so I took advantage of it," Dalpe said.

With forward Justin Fontaine missing some shifts in the first period and then exiting the game with an injury in the second period, it opened the door for Dalpe and other players fighting for spots to take extra shifts. But even before the Wild was down to 11 forwards, Head Coach Mike Yeo had taken notice of Dalpe.

"I had a pretty good feel for what kind of player he was, but what I liked was he was true to his identity, and he played hard at both ends of the ice," Yeo said after the game.

And Dalpe was hard not to notice. He buzzed around the ice, getting in on the forecheck and disrupting Columbus' possession. He went 6-for-11 on faceoffs, had two hits, and always seemed to be in the middle of things.

Then there was Dalpe's third shift of the game. Wild defenseman Gustav Olofsson had possession along the boards, and as he pivoted, was shoved from behind by Rene Bourque. Dalpe answered the bell, and challenged Bourque, immediately dropping the gloves.

"I don't think fighting was in my head [before the game]," Dalpe said. "I just wanted to play the game hard, and stick up for my teammates. That's never a bad thing for people to see, and I don't have a problem doing it."

Dalpe is scheduled to again be in the lineup on Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers in Saskatoon. He said he wants to take advantage of every opportunity he gets, and keep his mindset very simple.

"Just play," he said. "I know that's kind of a broad answer, but at the same time, I spoke with the coaching staff, and they were very reasonable with the time I missed. They threw me in a game, and kept it simple off the bat."

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