Jake Rosenbaum, a defenseman from Trabuco Canyon, California, knew exactly what he was getting into when he committed to Minnesota Duluth in June of 2018.
He knew playing time would be hard to come by on the Bulldogs’ blue line with Nick Wolff, Louie Roehl, Matt Anderson and a trio of NHL draft picks in Scott Perunovich, Dylan Samberg and Mikey Anderson all returning from that 2017-18 national championship team.
But Rosenbaum committed to the Bulldogs anyway to watch and learn from the best, which is exactly what he did during UMD’s second consecutive title run, suiting up for a mere two games as a freshman. Ice time appeared like it would once again be hard for Rosenbaum to come by this season as a sophomore, but a string of injuries has opened the door for the 22-year-old who has quickly gone from a suit in the stands to a member of the UMD penalty kill.
“It’s just paying your dues," said Rosenbaum, who has dressed in 11-straight games heading into the Bulldogs’ final series before a two-week holiday break, a trip to Nebraska-Omaha for a pair of 7:07 p.m. NCHC games on Friday and Saturday at Baxter Arena.
"I knew what I was getting myself into my freshman year," he said. "That was something I was willing to work through.”
“You can’t look at it as, ‘Man, these guys are taking my ice.’ You got to look at it as these guys are a few steps ahead. What can I do to get to that level? My freshman year being able to learn from those guys and then even this year, trying to translate that into my game has been a tremendous help.”
Rosenbaum’s ascent started three weeks into the season when sophomore defenseman Hunter Lellig — who had won the spot vacated by Anderson after he signed in the spring with the L.A. Kings — suffered a leg injury that will continue to keep him out for the foreseeable future. While UMD mostly went with a five-defenseman rotation against Minnesota and Denver, they used Rosenbaum and senior Jarod Hilderman early and/or late in games to give guys a rest if needed.
Then the ice time really ramped up for Rosenbaum while junior defenseman Dylan Samberg missed four games between Nov. 15-23 after taking a puck to the head in the series against the Pioneers. It was against Colorado College two weeks ago that Rosenbaum started getting regular shifts on the penalty kill.
“It comes down to numbers,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “When guys are out, it gives some guys an opportunity to play and hopefully down the road it makes us a better team. (Rosenbaum) has been put in some situations that he’s never been in before because of the injuries. He’s learning, just like some of the guys are because it’s not something they’re probably used to. He’ll keep working, just like he’s done since he’s been here.”
Samberg returned to the lineup last weekend against Minnesota State-Mankato, however, senior defenseman Nick Wolff was lost two minutes into that series after slamming awkwardly into the boards. The co-captain and leader on the blue line hasn’t practiced much this week but is hoping to return for this weekend’s games in Omaha.
If Wolff can’t go, that will mean more opportunities for Rosenbaum, and more opportunities for Hilderman, as well. The senior has been battling to get out of the stands and onto the ice plenty in his four years as a Bulldog, totaling a goal and seven assists in 47 collegiate games thus far.
Hilderman played just nine games last year as a junior with his last appearance that season coming on Jan. 11, 2019. He played in 15 games as a sophomore — but none after Feb. 2, 2018 — and 11 his freshman season after filling in for an injured Carson Soucy during the NCHC postseason and NCAA West Regional.
Hilderman said the most important thing a player can do when they aren’t in the lineup is to stay focused.
“The season can get long when you’re not playing,” Hilderman said. “Then when you finally get thrown into it, you got to make sure you’re ready. It’s all in the preparation. When you’re not playing, do the extra stuff, make sure you’re focused so when that chance comes, you get out there and you can do your job.”
Roehl said both Hilderman and Rosenbaum have come up big in recent weeks and are big parts of the team even when they are not in the lineup. Rosenbaum is a smart player who is always willing to learn while Hilderman has taken over the veteran role that defensemen Nick McCormack and Dan Molenaar have served over the years.
It’s comforting to have a veteran defenseman that can be called upon when needed, Roehl said.
“He’s got poise with the puck, he’s a smooth skater, pretty much knows what he’s going to do with the puck at all times,” Roehl said. “He’s pretty safe back there too, so it’s something that we can rely on.”