DULUTH, Minn. - Inside the Minnesota Duluth locker room, there is no grander badge of honor than the welt produced by a successful blocked shot.
Those bruises generated plenty of accolades from teammates a year ago, and the actions of self-sacrifice were credited for helping the program reach the NCAA Frozen Four.
So it should be no surprise that junior forward Parker Mackay is wearing a letter this season on his Bulldogs jersey as an assistant captain. The 23-year-old from Irma, Alberta, hasn't been a leader in blocked shots from a statistical standpoint - and he only has one in four games this season going into this weekend's home series against Merrimack - but he's sure taken some memorable pucks the past two years.
Mackay broke his thumb blocking a shot in a home win over St. Cloud State in early January. That one caused him to miss six games.
As a freshman, Mackay memorably took a puck to the neck blocking a shot in a Friday loss at Northern Michigan in late January. It left a large, red welt, but Mackay didn't miss a shift. He came back the next night to record his first game-winning goal in a win over the Wildcats.
"That's a summary of who he is," said UMD senior wing and captain Karson Kuhlman. "That guy would do anything for the boys and for our program. I think it's great for everybody else to be around a guy like that day in and day out."
"He's risking his body, he's laying his body on the line for us, for every one of the guys, just to block one shot that someone else could have had," said redshirt sophomore goaltender Nick Deery. "But he's taking it upon himself to put his body out there, to lay it on the line to give us the best chance to win."
Mackay, whose cousin, Carson Soucy, had a prowess for blocking shots in his four years on the Bulldogs' blue line, said he's always had a deep appreciation and respect for players who block shots and that he always wanted to be one of those players.
So far Mackay has been just that, with 35 career blocks for an average of just over a blocked shot every other game.
"I think it brings a lot of energy when you see a teammate sacrificing like that," said Mackay, who in his final year of juniors with the Spruce Grove Saints was named the Alberta Junior Hockey League's most dedicated player and playoff MVP. "I obviously want to try and lead by example, so I'm going to try and do that as much as I can if I have the opportunity."
Mackay credited the block in Michigan's Upper Peninsula for cementing his place in the UMD lineup as a freshman. He was a healthy scratch in 10 of the first 12 games of 2015-16, and despite playing in 11 straight - plus being on the top line that night - prior to the series at Northern Michigan, Mackay said he still felt the need to do anything it took to stay on the ice.
That mentality may have come from his first few shifts at UMD, which included a turnover and penalty shortly thereafter. It's something Mackay said he still remembers well.
"Early, it was a tough adjustment," Mackay said. "I figured I had a pretty good summer two summers ago and last summer. I feel like I've come quite a ways."
Mackay, who as a freshman was bestowed the Mike Sertich Award as the most improved player, has indeed come a long way. He credits former linemates Cal Decowski and Charlie Sampair for having a big impact on him as a freshman.
Offensively, Mackay doubled his offensive output from his freshman to sophomore years, going from four goals and two assists in 29 games to eight goals and four assists in 32 games.
He's got one goal - the overtime winner vs. Minnesota - in four games this year.
Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin called Mackay a "junkyard dog-type player," and not just for his assistant captain's willingness to block any shot coming his way, no matter the risks. Mackay is also the kind of player who has the willingness to go into the toughest areas of the rink, Sandelin said.
"When you're not afraid to play in the tough areas of the rink and do those things, to me you're a very valuable player on your team," Sandelin said.
"The last three games, for sure, he's been outstanding for us and how he needs to play, leadership-wise," Sandelin added. "It's just part of his makeup. When he's playing like that, he's a very effective player for us."
COLLEGE MEN'S HOCKEY
Merrimack (0-2-1) at No. 9 UMD (1-2-1)
What: Nonconference series
When: 7:37 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Amsoil Arena
Radio: KDAL-AM 610/KDAL-FM 103.9
Internet: KDAL610.com (audio); nchc.tv/umd (video)