The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 17, 2013

West senior gets shot at playing junior hockey


The Mankato Free Press

---- — Zach Erickson’s glad he completed most of his high school credits as an underclassman. The Mankato West senior has just three classes at the school as well as a pair of online courses.

“I wouldn’t be able to manage (with a full load),” he said. “It’s hard enough right now.”

Erickson’s thinking about college, specifically about playing hockey in college. He believes he has a shot, whether it’s at Division I level or Division III, now that he’s playing junior hockey in the Twin Cities.

Although his school hours are fairly light, his days are long. At the end of the school day, he makes the 75-minute commute to Richfield to practice with the Minnesota Magicians, a new team in the North American Hockey League. After a two-hour workout, he returns home and gets ready for the next day.

“My parents have helped out, driving once in awhile,” Erickson said. “I hope, in the end, it will pay off. It makes for long days, driving back and forth. But it’s worth it.”

Very few players make the leap from high school hockey to the college game anymore.

Most spend some time, a season or two, at the junior level. Erickson is the first West player to get a junior-hockey chance since goaltender Tyler Bruggeman, who played four seasons for teams in the NAHL and the United States Hockey League before going to Division III St. Scholastica. Corey Leivermann played two seasons in the USHL before going to Minnesota State. After 2 1/2 seasons as a Maverick, he transferred to Gustavus Adolphus. He’ll be a senior there this season.

Erickson plans to play for the Magicians before and after the high school season, returning to skate for the Scarlets in between.

Four players on this season’s Minnesota State team, including senior defenseman Josh Nelson, played in the NAHL before arriving in Mankato. Three others on the roster spent some time in that league before moving to the USHL, which is a higher level of junior hockey.

“I like it a lot; it’s a lot different than high school,” Erickson said. “It’s a lot more physical, and it’s faster.”

Erickson, who made the Magicians team (since he’s returning home for the bulk of the season, he’s not on the official roster but is considered a protected player) after a series of camps and all-star games over the spring and summer, played in a couple of preseason games this month. The Magicians’ regular-season opener is Wednesday night in Blaine. He doesn’t know yet if he’ll be in the lineup.

“I think I played pretty good overall,” he said. “I played with speed and physicality. They like that I’m a two-way hockey player.”

Erickson had 15 goals and nine assists in 28 games for West last season. With him playing in Richfield and fellow forward Derek Frentz and defenseman Tyler Jutting playing in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League this fall, the Scarlets will have plenty of high-level experience to draw upon in a year of high expectations.

Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @puckato.