A lower body injury will keep Minnesota Duluth sophomore defenseman Hunter Lellig out of this weekend’s NCHC-opening series against top-ranked Denver at Amsoil Arena, and it's possible the injury could cost him the rest of the season.

Meaning Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin — who wasn’t ready on Wednesday to completely rule out Lellig’s return in 2019-20 — is looking for either senior Jared Hilderman or sophomore Jake Rosenbaum to step up and take that sixth spot on the blue line.

If neither does, Sandelin said he’s content to do what he did two weeks ago in the sweep of Minnesota and use a five-man rotation on the ice between senior Nick Wolff and juniors Scott Perunovich, Dylan Samberg, Louie Roehl and Matt Anderson.

“It’s no different than any other player. You ask guys to step up when guys are out and hopefully those guys can do that,” said Sandelin, whose Bulldogs enter conference play ranked seventh nationally. “We’ve got enough guys there that can play. If it’s five, if it’s six, if it’s four, we’ll see how the game goes and see how guys are doing.”

Lellig suffered a lower body injury two weeks ago in practice during the lead up to the series with the Gophers, causing him to miss the sweep. He had won the spot on the Bulldogs’ blue line that was vacated by Mikey Anderson, who signed with the Los Angeles Kings after two national championship runs at UMD. The Waterloo, Iowa, native picked up his first collegiate point — an assist — in his last game at Wisconsin on Oct. 19.

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Lellig dressed for 25 games last season as a freshman, although almost exclusively as a seventh defensemen. He did get more regular shifts while Anderson and Samberg were with Team USA at the World Junior Championship, and again late in the regular season when Perunovich was battling a back injury.

Hilderman — who has dressed for 39 career games but just nine last year — and Rosenbaum — who got in just two as a freshman — rotated as the seventh defenseman before Lellig went down, opening the door for both to suit up on game day when Sandelin elects to use a defenseman as his 19th skater, which is frequently.

But just because a players suits up, it doesn’t mean he plays. And when he does play, shifts can be few and far between. That’s often been the case for Hilderman (3 games this year) and Rosenbaum (4 games).

Wolff said playing with five defensemen isn’t a big change — conserving energy is key — but the team needs someone to step up with Lellig out long term.

“We can't always be rolling five and rolling four (defenseman),” Wolff said. “We need depth in our lineup and we need to use all six and seven D. We need some guys to step up and fill some roles and they look pretty good right now.”

Minnesota Duluth sophomore wing Tanner Laderoute (13) controls the puck against Wisconsin on Oct. 18 at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.  (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Minnesota Duluth sophomore wing Tanner Laderoute (13) controls the puck against Wisconsin on Oct. 18 at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Laderoute is back

Sophomore wing Tanner Laderoute should be back in the lineup for the 7:07 p.m. games Friday and Saturday against the Pioneers after missing the last three games due to a left leg injury, Sandelin said Wednesday.

Laderoute was playing alongside Noah and Jackson Cates before being helped off the ice on Oct. 18 at Wisconsin. He is still looking for his first point of 2019-20 after coming up empty in the first three games he appeared in.

He posted seven goals and five assists in 38 games last year as a freshman third-line wing, and while he tallied just three assists in the final 15 games, two of those helpers set up the game-tying in and game-winning goals in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship. The other came in the NCAA championship.

“He’s a returning guy that obviously brings a lot,” Sandelin said. “He’s competitive, good at getting in on forechecks. He’s a penalty killer, he’s played some power play. Another guy with experience that can play up and down our lineup. He gives us more depth.”