ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Growing up in White Bear Lake, Jake Wahlin was always one of the fastest players on the ice and he was a prolific point producer.
In three high school seasons, Wahlin had more than 100 goals and 200 points before going to play junior hockey his senior season. In 2-plus seasons with the United States Hockey League's Tri-City Storm, he had 32 goals and 91 points in 127 regular season games and helped the Storm win the 2016 Clark Cup as league playoff champions.
Things have been different for Wahlin since he joined the St. Cloud State men's hockey team. In 113 career college games, he has 15 goals and 37 points. There have not only been stretches of no points, but he has also been a healthy scratch during his four seasons with the Huskies.
"I'm not going to lie to you: there have been times, it was tougher than others," Wahlin said. "At the end of the day, you've got to come in with a positive mindset each day. I truly believe that if you do that and keep working hard and sticking with it, things will pay off. I think that's big for everyone."
Wahlin, a 23-year-old senior wing, looks to be on his way to his best college season. He has three goals and nine points and played in all 20 games this season for the Huskies. Surprising to some may be that Wahlin leads the Huskies in plus/minus going into this weekend's NCHC series against Minnesota Duluth at plus-7. Players receive a plus-1 for each time he is on the ice for an even-strength or short-handed goal in a game and a minus-1 for every even-strength or short-handed goal by an opponent.
For Wahlin, this is coming off a junior season in which he had season-lows in goals (1), assists (4), points (5), games (27) and had the worst plus/minus (minus-6) on the team. So what's different this season?
"He's playing more responsible," said Brett Larson, who is in his second season as St. Cloud State's head coach. "For me personally, as his coach, he's gained more trust from me with his ability to play both ends of the rink. Usually, with more trust comes more playing time."
Wahlin said that he is trying not to overthink when he gets on the ice.
"Play simple, not cheat the game, have good puck management and make sure we're making the right plays at the right time," he said. "That doesn't necessarily mean that you can't try to get offense. It just means being good in our 'D' zone and letting our defensive play lead to offense."
Wahlin-Hammer dynamic duo
Wahlin, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, and junior center Will Hammer (6-2, 210) have been on the same line for 16 games this season. Hammer, who played in four college games going into the season, has three goals, an assist and is third on the team in plus/minus (plus-5) in 18 games.
"He's clicked with Will and whoever is on that line," Larson said. "There's been some type of chemistry with he and Will and whoever else has been rotating in on that line. They've done a good job of maintaining that chemistry no matter who they've had with them on that line.
"(Wahlin's) been a really good, positive teammate with great energy every night. He gives this team a lot of life every night because of his energy. He's always got a smile on his face. He's a good teammate. He brings a good energy to the team on and off the ice."
Despite coming off his toughest college season statistically, Wahlin said he was determined to bring that upbeat outlook to the team this season.
"It's something I try to bring every day," said Wahlin, who is a marketing major. "Some days, even when you're not feeling it as much, I've tried to make sure that I'm staying positive and having good energy. I think that's something that people can feed off of each day.
"I want to do everything I can to be a part of the winning culture that we have here," said Wahlin, whose team is the two-time defending NCHC regular season champion. "Being a senior, I wanted to be a big part of the team. I definitely had that mindset in the summer and I've tried to bring everything to the table that I could."
And Wahlin still has that speed and the ability to bring some offense. A good example of that came on Saturday when he scored after receiving a long flip pass from freshman Kyler Kupka for the Huskies' first goal of the game.
"We were trying to let the wingers fly and it was one of those things where (Kupka) made a great, heads-up play and I thought I had a step on the guy and he made an unbelievable lob pass to me and put it right on my tape," Wahlin said of the cross-ice pass, which went from St. Cloud State's defensive blue line to near the top of a faceoff circle in the Denver zone.
Wahlin also had two assists in the game.
3 SCSU recruits make NHL Central Scouting list
Three St. Cloud State recruits have made NHL Central Scouting's midterm draft list.
Evan Bushy, a 17-year-old senior defenseman at Thief River Falls High School (Minn.), is listed 146th among North American skaters. Bushy, the younger brother of St. Cloud State sophomore defenseman Brendan Bushy, leads the Prowlers in assists (16) and is tied for the team lead in points (24) in 16 games.
Christian Miller, an 18-year-old senior defenseman for Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin, is listed 204th among North American skaters. Miller, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, has two goals and six assists in 15 games.
Veeti Miettinen, an 18-year-old forward from Espoo, Finland, is ranked 92nd among International skaters. Miettinen is playing in the top junior league in Finland and has 30 goals and 52 points in 39 games. He leads Jr. A SM-liiga in goals and points.
Get a hat, bid on a jersey
St. Cloud State plays Minnesota Duluth at 7:37 p.m. Friday and 4:07 p.m. Saturday at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. The first 500 fans on Friday will receive a St. Cloud State winter stocking hat. Also on Friday, the 2020 Frozen Four trophy will be in the main concourse and fans can register to win free tickets to the NCAA national championship.
On Saturday, St. Cloud State players will be wearing alternate jerseys that will be auctioned off to fans. Fans can bid on the jerseys during the game and winning bidders will get the jerseys after the game from the players. Auction money goes to support St. Cloud State athletics. Saturday's game is in the afternoon as part of Hockey Day Minnesota.