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World Juniors 2017: Minnesota D Ryan Lindgren’s evolving style leads him back to Team USA

The only skater in a family of goalies, Ryan, a onetime forward and offensive defenseman, has become a two-way physical D. He is the lone Gopher player participating in the 2017 WJC beginning today.

Daniel Mick

When his Minnesota teammates go spend the last week of the semester taking finals, reflecting on their first half before beginning the season’s second, Ryan Lindgren will be too busy for any downtime. His holiday break involves a nearly two week trip to Canada.

One where he will be wearing a red, white and blue sweater for the festive occasion.

Lindgren, a freshman defenseman with 3 points in 15 games, is the lone Gopher player to take part in the 2017 World Junior Championships. Because of that he finished his finals a week early to avoid distractions before heading to Buffalo, NY last Thursday for pre-tournament preparations.

“It was a little nerve racking on that Sunday, waiting to see and get a text from (USA General Manager Jim) Johannson, but obviously it was really exciting,” Lindgren told SB Nation College Hockey prior to leaving for Buffalo. “There are a lot of good players who get named there so it’s a big honor. Hopefully I can go to camp and do well and make that final team.”

An international tournament featuring the best men’s hockey players under 20 not already in the NHL, the WJC runs from December 26th to January 5th, 2017 in Montreal and Toronto.

One of eight American defensemen vying for seven spots, the 6’0”, 201 lbs 18 year-old officially made the team Saturday, which is coached by St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko. Gopher assistant Grant Potulny also has the same role on Team USA.

He stands alone among Gophers after four University of Minnesota players and one Minnesota commit joined Lindgren at the US national junior evaluation camp back in August.

Going at it on his own is nothing new for Lindgren, the lone defenseman in a family of goalies. Brothers Charlie (now with the Montreal Canadiens) and Andrew (St. John’s) took to the position of their dad, who played at the University of Michigan. He tried too. It wasn’t his thing. Ryan preferred to be a skater.

“Maybe that makes me the weird one a little bit, but we have fun. I get to shoot on those guys,” he said.

Just as weird was that originally he was a forward. Defense eventually called in bantams and he took to it, playing up an age group at Shattuck St. Mary’s. Offense back then was Lindgren’s calling card.

Spending the past two years with the United States National Team Development Program in Michigan influenced the two-way, physical “take no prisoners” brand of hockey Gopher fans this season have witnessed at Mariucci Arena.

“When I was to the US National Team they kind of changed my role a little bit. I became more of a shutdown guy. I just came with it,” said Lindgren. “Expecting me to bring some of the intensity is just part of my game, whether knocking a guy down or going for the big hit when I can, playing tough.”

It was there where Lindgren’s on-ice leadership was recognized by his talented teammates. They voted Lindgren team captain for several international tournaments, including the 2016 Under-18 World Championships.

Still learning the college ropes for the team he says he always wanted to play for growing up, Lindgren, drafted 49th overall this summer by the Boston Bruins, has been more of a listener in his first semester.

The freshman embraced the rookie-veteran dynamic he shares with blue line partner, senior Jake Bischoff. In addition to getting help from coaches, Lindgren tries to regularly pick the more offensive-oriented Bischoff’s brain. He has been watching and listening to what the alternate captain says on the bench.

While it hasn’t always worked - Lindgren was suspended for a game this month after a late elbow - other moments have shown why the Minneapolis native (via Lakeville) can make an impact.

“This was kind of a Ryan Lindgren type of game where he’s going to play in your face and hard to play against, get into people and block shots,” was how Don Lucia described the freshman’s play in a November 5th shutout win against North Dakota.

Since last putting on an American sweater, Lindgren believes the high paced practices at Minnesota and improvement in both zones have made him a better player on the ice. It’s given him confidence in the things he needs to work, to further evolve his game and be on the same page.

That comfort, knowing where he uniquely fits among a group of offensive-first defenders thanks to his time with the USNTDP helps Lindgren make his case to once again be on the US roster.

“With the defensive group there seems to be a lot of power play guys, guys who put up big numbers. Somewhat for me I’ll be a guy who is going to be reliable in his own zone,” he said. “Someone who is tough to play against and shut down the other team’s top guys.

“I think that could help the team a lot, being a penalty kill guy and being hard to play against.”

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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter --