Minnesota Crookston hockey season in review
This article is the second in a series recapping the winter sports season for Crookston High School and the University of Minnesota Crookston. Previously: UMC women's basketball. Today: UMC hockey.
This winter, college hockey returned to Crookston for the first time in nearly a decade.
In its first season as an ACHA Division II program, the Minnesota Crookston hockey team faced an uphill battle. The Golden Eagles, helmed by legendary USHL coach Steve Johnson, had just 15 players, a majority of them freshmen. Due to COVID-19 concerns with other teams on their schedule, they were only able to play 13 games of what was initially an 18-game schedule.
But UMC made those 13 games count, going 6-7 in an initial season that should ultimately go down as a successful one, if not jaw-droppingly so. The Golden Eagles won their first game, 5-3, at Jamestown on Jan. 9, and went 3-1 against the Jimmies over the course of the season. They won three games against North Dakota's club team, and were competitive against ACHA ranked opponents in Williston State and the University of Mary.
Minnesota Crookston played a high-scoring brand of hockey, averaging 4.1 goals per game and allowing 4.2. It averaged nearly 37 shots per game and outshot its opponents by an average of 4.5 shots. Four Golden Eagles averaged at least a point per contest, and three others recorded at least 10.
While UMC was ineligible for postseason play this season as it was new to the ACHA, the 2021 Golden Eagles began laying the foundation to build a team that eventually could not only get there, but win once there.
- Record: 6-7
- Regular season: competed as independent, No. 19 in ACHA Division II poll
- Postseason: ineligible during first season
- Team stats: 54 goals scored, 55 goals allowed
- Statistical leaders: Casey Kallock (6 goals, 13 assists), Cam Olstad (13 goals, 5 assists), Tyler Zahradka (8 goals, 10 assists), Josh Nelson (6 goals, 7 assists), Jake Sumner (6-7, .869 save percentage, 365 saves)
This one seems pretty obvious. In their first game since 2012, the Golden Eagles firmly stated that they were back once more, with a win over an established club team in its own rink.
Cam Olstad, who went on to lead UMC in goals in its inaugural season, scored the first goal for the revamped Golden Eagles. Brandon Boetcher, a graduate of Crookston High School, gave them their first lead. Casey Kallock then scored twice, and Tyler Zahradka scored once, to help them put the game away. Jake Sumner stopped 26 of 29 Jamestown shots to earn the win.
Success didn't come as easily for Minnesota Crookston during the middle stretch of the season, as it lost six straight games in February. But the Golden Eagles found their stride once more late in the season, ending the year on a four-game winning streak and with another first — a 6-0 win over Jamestown on March 13 for their first shutout.
Shortly after the season ended, UMC announced it had accepted an invitation to join the Western Collegiate Club Hockey Association, an ACHA Division II conference that includes Minnesota, Minnesota State, Minnesota Duluth, North Dakota, North Dakota State and St. Cloud State, among others.
The new league should give the Golden Eagles a chance to develop rivalries and contend for the ACHA postseason. It's the logical next step in the program's evolution.
As far as the program itself goes, the emphasis for Minnesota Crookston moving forward will be growing the roster. Fifteen players doesn't make for a particularly deep group, though part of that can be explained by the challenges of recruiting during a global pandemic.
That being said, there are plenty of signs that the Golden Eagles will be able to add to their numbers. They appear to have established something of a foothold in northwest Minnesota already, with 11 players on the inaugural roster hailing from the region. Having a coach with the name recognition of Johnson, a two-time Clark Cup champion, should only help matters.
In addition, Minnesota Crookston should return much of this season's roster. Kallock, an offensive-minded blueliner, led the team in points with 19, while the Golden Eagles had four players — Olstad, Tyler Zahradka, Brandon Boetcher and Zach Larson — score at least seven goals this season.
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