Ice Jacks hockey looks to fill roster with open tryouts
The NAU Ice Jacks Division II hockey team, in their second year at that level, fell just three goals short last season at the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) West Regional Finals. This year, close to 80 players, including a record-breaking 30-plus newcomers, look to take the Ice Jacks to the national championships.
During the first weekend in September, hopefuls tried out at the Jay Lively Ice Center. The four-day tryouts began on the Sept. 7 with all skaters working on ice and skating drills. Head coach Keith Johansen said his main goal for the first night of tryouts was to teach the players the fundamentals of what NAU hockey is about.
“We’ve always been a physical team so we’re working on that right off the get-go,” Johansen said. “We’re trying to see how they’re doing with the knowledge of the game. We’re trying to see who’s players and who’s not out there.”
Just from the first night alone, Johansen saw a lot from the players that can lead both the Div. II and III squads to a better year.
“We have a lot of talent out there with a lot of young players,” Johansen said. “We’re not losing a ton from the D II program, but we have some slots to fill and I think some of these younger guys are going to step up to the plate and fill those slots for us. Right now, I’m impressed with all the kids that are out here.”
During the next two nights, all players were split into four teams and rotated to play each other. All four teams took scrimmages seriously. The physical play was evident with everyone treating it like a real game.
Freshman forward Dillon Butenhoff said just by looking at the faces of the players, it’s easy to tell how they feel.
“Everybody is out here giving 100 percent, and that’s where you have to pull yourself through and worry about yourself because you know everyone is out there,” Butenhoff said.
On the final night, some players, most who were returning players from last year, sat out of the rubber match because they were already chosen for one of the two teams. The game ended in a 5–5 tie with a shootout to determine the winner. Ultimately, the white team took home the victory.
The biggest victory on the night were those who were selected to the Div. II squad.
Freshman center Ryan Greenspan, who was chosen for the Div. II team, said he is expecting this team to make a national tournament run.
“Whether I’m on the fourth, third, second or first line, [I] just [want to] make the team and help this team make the nationals,” Greenspan said. “I’d like to hopefully give them that one-up, whatever they need. There’s a lot of talent coming and there’s a lot of previous talent that stayed behind, so I definitely think there will be a national tournament this year.”
Both the Div. III and Div. II squads begin their season on Sept. 23. The Div. III team will be at home as they face the University of New Mexico, while the Div. II team travels on the road to Tempe to face the Arizona State Sun Devils.