Nestled 109 miles southeast of Edmonton at the intersection of Highways 14 and 881, Irma, Alberta is easy to miss if you're not looking for it. Only 457 people lived there as of the 2011 census. The tiny village features a nine-hole golf course, four artificial-ice curling sheets, an outdoor rink, four baseball diamonds, a campground with 42 service lots and an agricultural plot for team roping, rodeo and gymkhana, a form of equestrian. Irma was founded in 1908 when the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway came through, and its list of famous natives since includes and is limited to cookbook author Jean Paré.
For Wild prospect Carson Soucy, this is home.
The son of a local carpenter and banker, Soucy learned to skate in a flooded front yard alongside his two older brothers and honed his craft on a sheet of ice between the town's ball fields and curling club. After two years in Alberta's minor junior hockey ranks, he began his collegiate career at Minnesota-Duluth in 2013. And that same summer, the Wild took him in the fifth round (137th overall) of the NHL Entry Draft.
Duluth is privy to more than 86,000 residents. St. Paul, where Soucy's taken part in Development Camp each of the past two summers, has almost 295,000.
"It's a small town," the 6-foot-5, 210-pound defenseman says of Irma, "and really the only thing you can do is play hockey or fastball," a Canadian version of fast-pitch softball Soucy played until 2012.
Soucy speaks calmly, just a hint of far-north accent in his voice. After a phone conversation with Wild.com, he'll make the 18 ½-mile drive to nearby Wainwright, where he and two high school friends have been training this summer. Soucy's focus: upper-body strength and increased mobility while adding some muscle, a delicate balance for a man of his stature. Once a week, he brushes up on stickhandling.
As even-keeled and good-natured as they come -- his Twitter handle is @DrSouce71 -- away from the rink, a healthy rage seems to grip Soucy once his skates touch its surface -- the quintessential combination of small-town courtesy and blue-collar workmanship.
"He's a pretty easygoing guy," Wild director of player development Brad Bombardir said. "He's got a demeanor of things don't get to him.
"But he plays with an edge. Everything's a competition to him. There's a fire that burns within him you can see during games."
That's what Bombardir observed during a sophomore season in which Soucy amassed six goals and eight assists, helping Duluth (21-16-3) to NCAA tournament's second round. Already, Soucy has developed into a tenacious two-way defender at the collegiate level, one who sets a physical tone with his checking, is skilled enough to join the rush, and played a central role on coach Scott Scandelin's penalty kill this past winter.
Soucy blocked 44 shots and finished with a Duluth second-best plus-13 rating, a metric he pays close attention to throughout the season.
"I keep track after pretty much every game," Soucy said. "I try to bring a physical part of the game ... and take the other team's top players off their game, get in their head and get a little rough with them."
After working with Soucy at last summer's Development Camp, Bombardir wasn't surprised to see that. Soucy came off his freshman year stronger and more sinewy than the long, lanky kid Minnesota had drafted the year before.
"More mature shape," Bombardir calls it.
"If you can couple a player with a very good reach and some intelligence to his game and understanding of the game, those three things really help a big guy and really help get him close to the top of the list," Bombardir said. "Carson has those three pillars."
The Wild could use another big, bruising defenseman in the years to come.
"Carson's one of our guys -- I don't want to say he's surprised us -- but certainly one of our prospects that's definitely caught our attention playing up there" in Duluth, Bombardir said.