When it came time to vote for team captains, there was a particular name that Minnesota State goaltender Dryden McKay knew should be included on his ballot.
It was the player who prevented nearly 100 shots from reaching him during his first season in the Mavericks’ net.
“That’s something that’s so valuable to our team, especially on our (penalty kill) and in D-zone,” McKay said of shot-blocking senior Edwin Hookenson. “As a goalie, to have a defenseman who’s willing to do stuff like that, it’s huge.”
Hookenson was named the Mavericks’ alternate captain last week, just days before their season-opening series against Arizona State. He’s part of the team’s leadership group, along with second-year captains Marc Michaelis and Nick Rivera.
“I thought he totally deserved it,” McKay said. “I think a lot of guys in this locker room, including myself, look up to him. In those tough times, he always holds strong. ... On the ice, he’s one of our most reliable players. He was our Unsung Hero Award winner last year.”
Hookenson, who blocked 97 shots last season, ranking second in the nation by one, played in all 42 games. But he wasn’t always a lineup staple.
Three years ago, he was a fledgling, soft-spoken rookie trying to find out if there was a spot for him in the Minnesota State lineup. Back then, the idea of being a team leader and future captain never crossed his mind — or the coach’s.
“He had a long ways to go on the rink,” coach Mike Hastings said. “Off the rink, he was still a rock-solid kid. … But if you’d asked me (if he was captain material) after his sophomore year, I’d have told you, ‘Yeah, I’d be shocked if he isn’t wearing a letter by the time he’s out of here,’ — just by the way he conducts himself both on and off the ice and how hard he trained and what a teammate he his and those types of things.”
Hookenson was a scratch for the first 14 games of his freshman season. He ended up playing in just 19 games that year. He had no points, although he did block 22 shots.
“When I came in I saw what our lineup looked like, and I knew it was going to be tough for me to get in the lineup,” Hookenson said. “I was trying not to get too frustrated with it. I think there was some injuries and stuff like that, and I got my chance.”
During his second season, he played in 25 of 40 games, and it was well into January before he became an everyday player. He scored his first two goals that season and ended up with eight points, but he was third on the team with 36 blocked shots.
While he wasn’t playing in games, Hookenson, a farm kid from the small town of Lampman, Saskatchewan, made sure he was prepared for his chance, whenever that would be.
“I had been working pretty hard and trying to get in extra skates in the morning and trying to get in extra workouts on the weekends,” he said, “just trying to do everything I could to be ready.”
It’s a lesson that so many players at all levels of all sports can learn from, including several on this season’s second-ranked Minnesota State team. With a loaded, veteran lineup, the Mavericks have several good, young players who will be watching games from the stands every night, hoping for their chance.
“I know exactly what they’re going through,” Hookenson said. “It’s tough when you’re not playing. It’s hard to deal with, but it’s something where you’ve got to be ready when your number’s called, like coach always says.”
Hookenson’s number has been called for more than a season now. As a junior, he had three goals and 10 points, and the blocked shots continued to add up.
“You have to be working extra hard to get in the lineup, and the guys who haven’t played yet, they’ve been working as hard as anybody,” Hookenson said. “They really want that chance.”
Hookenson works just as hard in the classroom. An accounting and finance major with a 4.0 grade-point average, he was named a CoSIDA Google Cloud Third Team Academic All-American in June.
Now that’s he’s a captain, don’t expect him to change much. The mild-mannered, Hookenson said he’ll continue to lead by example, letting his work on and off the ice do the talking, with perhaps a bit more assertiveness than in the past.
“It’s a great honor; I’m happy the way it’s worked out,” he said, “but, to be honest, freshman year, I would have never saw it coming.”
Follow Shane Frederick on Twitter @puckato