In a season full of the unexpected, Ethan Gauer has probably experienced it more than most in college hockey.
The freshman defenseman began the year at Alaska Anchorage, only to learn the university planned to eliminate the men’s hockey program at the end of the season.
Fortunately for Gauer, he was able to find a new team to call his own, and in his home state no less. The Farmington native joined the Bemidji State roster for the second semester and has been with the team for the last month.
“It was a pretty smooth transition,” Gauer said. “Obviously it’s sad to see what’s happening up in Anchorage. They’re all great people up there. The coaches up there helped me a lot in finding a new home. They were all really supportive and I’m really happy to be here.”
Gauer had already entered the transfer portal when even more bad news arrived: UAA was opting out of the 2020-21 season. The players who stuck around wouldn’t even get a chance to play one last time.
Before long, the Beavers expressed interest in adding Gauer to the team. He wouldn’t even need to wait until next season.
Gauer had returned home from Anchorage to Minnesota for winter break when he learned he had a spot waiting for him at BSU. He joined the team when it reassembled ahead of a Jan. 2-3 series at Lake Superior State, where he made his collegiate debut.
“I really hoped to be playing this year, especially with the season last year in juniors being cut short,” said Gauer, who spent two years with Bismarck of the NAHL prior to this season. “I hadn’t played a game in probably eight or nine months, so I was really hoping to get in somewhere to play this semester.
“I didn’t really know what was going to happen. I really wanted a spot for next year, but as soon as I had the opportunity to come here… it was a no-brainer for me.”
As far as head coach Tom Serratore can recall, only two other players have joined BSU mid-season during his 20 years in charge of the program: goalie Reid Mimmack in 2012-13 and forward John Parker in 2013-14.
“We felt we needed to add some depth to our defensive corps. We’ve had some injuries,” Serratore said. “He’s a good hockey player, a great kid, a Minnesota kid. He needed a home, we needed to add depth. It was a great situation for both parties.”
The NCAA adopted a pandemic-related rule change that allows athletes to transfer from one Division I school to another without needing to sit out a year, which has given Gauer the chance to play right away.
“I was definitely a little nervous coming in,” Gauer said. “But they’re all really good guys. They all introduced themselves the second I walked in the locker room. They were all really helpful. … We jumped right into that road trip against Lake Superior State and Bowling Green. That was a huge helper for me because we were all together all the time, so I kind of got to know the guys a lot better and be more comfortable around them.”
Gauer’s arrival reunited a pair of high school teammates. He and freshman goalie Gavin Enright helped lead Farmington to a Class AA state tournament berth in 2016.
“(Enright) answered a lot of questions that I had, so it was really helpful,” Gauer said. “Especially that first day knowing a guy that I’ve played with growing up all through high school. It was really nice to have that familiar face.”
Gauer wasn’t the only player to leave Alaska Anchorage.
At least eight other Seawolves have transferred to Division I programs, with sophomore Alex Frye (Northern Michigan) and freshman Josh Martin (Alabama Huntsville) also winding up elsewhere in the WCHA.
“I was only up there for a couple months, but we got super close,” Gauer said of his time at UAA. “They’re all really good guys up there. Everyone in that program is really good at what they do. I still stay in touch with a lot of the guys. I’m happy to see the guys that have opportunities elsewhere, as well. I also hope they can save that program because it is a special program.”