ALBANY, N.Y. — This is Jared Cockrell's fifth season on an NCAA Division I men's hockey team roster, but on Sunday he was able to experience something for the first time. Cockrell is a graduate transfer for St. Cloud State and the forward got to hear his team's name get picked for the 16-team NCAA Division I field.
The Huskies watched the NCAA selection show in the Husky Den at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center together and let out a big cheer when it was announced that they were the No. 2 seed in the Northeast Regional. The Huskies (17-10-0) will play third-seeded Boston University (10-4-1) at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y. (ESPNEWS)
The winner of that game will face the winner between top-seeded Boston College (17-5-1) and fourth-seeded Notre Dame (14-13-2) (ESPNEWS). The regional championship game will be played at 4:30 p.m. Sunday (ESPN2).
"I think the most exciting part is I wanted to come here for a chance to do something like this," Cockrell said. "For that to come true at St. Cloud, it's great that we achieved that goal and, hopefully, we can keep achieving more goals."
Cockrell grew up on the East Coast. His father, Jerry Cockrell, spent 16 seasons as a head coach in the New England Prep School Ice Hockey Association and was a volunteer assistant coach at the University of Maine this season.
Cockrell grew up about a five-hour drive away from Albany, N.Y., in Kents Hill, Maine, where his dad was the head coach for 12 seasons at Kents Hill School. And despite playing four seasons for Colgate about two hours away in Hamilton, N.Y., Cockrell said this will be his first time at Times Union Center.
"It's surprising because it seems like I've been at every rink on the East Coast," he said. "Union College and RPI play right around the Albany area, so I've been around there a lot — just haven't made it into that rink.
"I think my family was more excited than me," Cockrell said of when they heard the Huskies were headed to Albany. "My mom was able to catch a game this year (in person), but my dad wasn't. So he's really excited to go out and catch a game. And I think my brother and a couple grandparents are going to come down, too. It will be really fun to get them in the rink and we were fortunate to get into a bracket that allowed fans."
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Playing in the AJHL
It's been an interesting road for Cockrell to get to this point. His dad, who spent much of his childhood in Edmonton, Alberta, helped coach his youth teams and then coached Jared for three seasons at Kents Hill.
He left Kents Hill and moved about 2,300 miles west to Brooks, Alberta, where he played for the junior team there (the Brooks Bandits) in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. In two seasons there, he had 73 goals and 147 points in 148 games.
"I got so lucky getting into the Brooks program because they're one of the best up in Canada," Cockrell said. "At the time, kids from the East Coast were going to the BCHL, but not many to the AJHL. I kind of got lucky with the timing of it and got really lucky to have a couple connections to Brooks from some other people in the east.
"The program there is as close to pro as you're going to get out there as a junior team. The town there (population 14,500) loves the team, the facilities are incredible and the coaching staff is one of the best in the country. I can't say enough good things about that place and it was two of the best years of my life."
His first season was a bit of a learning experience on a lot of levels. Along with 69 points in 79 games, he had 139 penalty minutes.
"I think I had to make a transition when I went to junior hockey," Cockrell said. "I can remember a meeting with the coach (Ryan Papaioannou) and him saying, 'Either you play more physical and you can handle this or your time here is not going to last long.'
"I was able to adapt and, since then, (playing physical) has always been a big part of my game because it makes me, as a player, more valuable."
Colgate ended up being one of the Division I teams that showed an interest in him in juniors.
"I was a late bloomer growing up and I was always physically undersized," said Cockrell, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds this season. "Even through my senior year of high school, I was only talking to a couple D3 schools and even they were waiting to see how my career would go in juniors.
"I don't think it was until halfway through my first year of juniors that some Division I coaches started watching my games. It was a late start compared to some of these kids who commit so early. But patience and taking my own road was what got me there."
He played for Colgate from 2016-20 and had 23 goals, 52 points and 128 penalty minutes in 112 games and earned an undergraduate degree in economics.
"That high caliber education there is awesome and the people there are great and I'm really grateful I went there," said Cockrell, who was an alternate captain when he left.
From Colgate to SCSU
The Raiders won their opening-round series last season in the ECAC playoffs, only to have the rest of the tournament get cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Shortly thereafter, Cockrell put himself into the transfer portal to play another season as a graduate student.
In 2018-19, Cockrell was limited to seven games due to a concussion, which gave him another year of eligibility. He picked St. Cloud State and is working on a Master of Business Administration degree, even though he had not set foot on campus before he signed to play for the Huskies.
"I think first and foremost, it was the coaching staff," Cockrell said of what sold him on SCSU. "Having a lot of conversations with Nick Oliver and with coach (Brett) Larson — they're just such great people. They're so genuine. I just agreed with a lot they had to say about how they handle culture with a team and the respect they have for each other. It made it easy for me."
Cockrell has played the majority of the season with senior center Will Hammer and sophomore wing Kyle Kupka. They are listed as the fourth line on the line charts, but Larson plays them in just about all situations.
Cockrell was brought in to replace some of the grit that the Huskies lost after Jack and Nick Poehling graduated last season and he has six points, 12 penalty minutes and is a plus-4 in 26 games.
"He's brought a quiet leadership and a maturity to the dressing room," Larson said of the 25-year-old wing. "He does the right things every day, on and off the ice. He's become a great secondary leader to our captains.
"On the ice, he's been a great piece on that Hammer line. He brings tenacity and energy and jump. He's really been a big part of that line being really hard to play against. He's a serious kid that takes the details to his game and work ethic to his game very seriously. He's a student of the game and his dad is a coach and you can tell he really analyzes the game and tries to break it down."
When Cockrell was asked about what his first experiences were like with the team when he got to St. Cloud in the summer, the word "serious" came up.
"The dedication to hockey that every kid on this team has is something that I've never really seen," Cockrell said. "Every kid here is going to get better and every kid here is playing the game the right way.
"Even in summer skates, it was shocking to me how seriously the program takes itself. Guys are going hard at any moment. If you're not ready for it, you're going to be behind. It was an early and good reminder that you need to show and be ready to go every day."
2021 NCAA men's hockey tournament
Albany, N.Y. (Saturday, March 27-Sunday, March 28)
1. Boston College (17-5-1) vs. 4. Notre Dame (14-13-2), noon Saturday (ESPNEWS)
2. St. Cloud State (17-10-0) vs. 3. Boston University (10-4-1), 5:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPNEWS)
Sunday's championship, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Loveland, Colo. (Saturday, March 27-Sunday, March 28)
1. Minnesota (23-6-0) vs. 4. Nebraska Omaha (14-10-1), 9 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU)
2. MSU-Mankato (20-4-1) vs. 3. Quinnipiac (17-7-4), 4 p.m. Saturday (ESPN3)
Sunday's championship, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Fargo, N.D. (Friday, March 26-Saturday, March 27)
1. North Dakota (21-5-1) vs. 4. American International (15-3-0), 8:30 p.m. Friday (ESPN3)
2. Michigan (15-10-1) vs. 3. Minnesota Duluth (14-10-2), 3 p.m. Friday (ESPNU)
Saturday's championship, 5:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Bridgeport, Conn. (Friday, March26-Saturday, March 27)
1. Wisconsin (20-9-1) vs. 4. Bemidji State (15-9-3), noon Friday (ESPN2)
2. UMass (16-5-4) vs. 3. Lake Superior State (19-6-3), 5:30 p.m. Friday (ESPNU)
Saturday's championship, 3 p.m. (ESPNU)