Minnesota's leading scorer makes a couple decisions to make him happy, commits to Augustana
Tyler Hennen looks to play at least one season with his older brother, Hayden, with the Vikings. Hennen has 62 goals, 106 points this season for Kittson County Central
Tyler Hennen was having some debate in the offseason about what to do this hockey season.
As a junior, Hennen had finished ninth in the state in goals (38) and 13th in points (73) playing for Kittson County Central in Hallock, in Minnesota's northwestern corner. Hennen's older brother, Hayden, was headed back to play his last season of junior hockey for the Anchorage Wolverines of the North American Hockey League.
Hennen was slated to play in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League in the fall before his senior season. A conversation with his Sanford Power head coach, Scott Oliver, helped persuade him to play his last season of high school hockey.
"I thought about (playing juniors) at the start of the year, but my Elite League coach, Scott Oliver, kind of convinced me to stay and play in the Elite League," said Hennen, who had signed a tender with Anchorage. "From what he was telling me, it was a good opportunity. I played that, so I've got to play high school. The Elite League had a lot of exposure and scouts at the games. (Oliver) told me that high school — this is the last time to be with my buddies and play with them and graduate with them.
"I love it up here," he said of Hallock, a community of about 900. "I didn't really want to miss my senior year, so it was the right decision to stay."
Hennen, playing with and against some of the top players in the state, scored the game-winning goal in the Elite League championship. In 18 Elite League games, Hennen had six goals and 14 points. He has gone on to lead the state in both goals (62) and points (106) in 21 games for Kittson County Central.
In an 8-8 tie with Wadena-Deer Creek on Jan. 27, Hennen had six goals and two assists. One of the people in attendance was Augustana University coach Garrett Raboin. Raboin ended up making Hennen an offer and Hennen verbally committed to play for the Vikings on Feb. 7.
I’m very excited to announce my commitment to play Division 1 hockey and further my education at Augustana University! Thank you to my friends, family, teammates, and all my coaches for helping me get this far. Excited for this opportunity! #AUHockey pic.twitter.com/4SvOgMpGaD— Tyler Hennen (@tylerhennen9) February 7, 2023
Hennen, Kittson County Central's captain, has led the team to 12-8-1 record and he's glad that he stuck around.
"It's worked out a lot better than I was expecting," he said. "The scrimmages that we had at the start of the high school season, we didn't really do too hot. So I was almost regretting my decision.
"But I stuck through and we're not doing as bad as I thought," said Hennen, whose team lost in the preseason scrimmages to Park Rapids and Grafton/Park River (N.D.). "We got blown out in each game, probably by 10. But playing in the regular season, we've lost by one to each of those teams, so we've shown some improvement."
Upon further review, Hennen noted that the team's second-leading scorer (Hayden Olsonawski, 36 goals, 68 points) and top defenseman Ethan Hanson (24 points) both missed the scrimmages. Both Olsonawski and Hanson are in his graduating class.
"I've played with them my whole life, since I was like 4 or 5," Hennen said. "I'd have felt bad if I'd left my senior year. I've thought about it so many times and I can't leave these guys."
That decision sat well with Rod Hennen, who has returned this season as Kittson County Central's head coach and is Tyler's dad.
"As far as poster boys for staying somewhere, he could have gone somewhere," Rod Hennen said of junior hockey. "He's just having a blast, playing with his friends. He knows after this year is done, it's off to another adventure.
"It would be pretty easy to take off and go somewhere else. Kudos to him for understanding that, maybe, this is fine, too."
An adaptable player
Hennen, who is 6-foot and 155 pounds, plays mostly center. Rod said that there are times when the team is leading that he will put Tyler on defense to help protect a lead and control the pace of game. If the team is up by a large margin, Tyler will also play some wing.
"Quite honestly, he's about as unselfish a player as you'd come across," Rod said of Tyler. "We've had a unique situation this year and I told him, 'We need all those goals this year.' Two years ago when he played with his brother, we had a really solid, nice team. We didn't need him to score six goals.
"This year, it seems like we need every one because all our games are close and tight. It's a little bit different of a role for him."
While most varsity teams have 18 skaters and two goalies, Kittson County Central has 15 skaters and two goalies on its roster. The Bearcats have seven upperclassmen and Tyler said that a number of the drills in practice are not too complex because his dad is trying to work on developing the younger players.
So Tyler will often go and spend time at the rink in Hallock on his own to work on some of his skills in addition to his team's practice. But he has some skills that come naturally.
"His hockey IQ, to me, is off the charts," Rod said. "He has a way of adapting to his surroundings and understanding what he needs to do, whether it's to score goals or dish the puck more or play a more defensive style.
"I just think he's a really smart, smart hockey player and he's willing to adapt and do what it takes to get the job done. His shot is quite good and he's worked on that a lot. Physically, he's going to need to get a little bit stronger. He hasn't got his man muscle yet. If they want someone to fit in and be part of a family, he's there."
And family will be at Augustana. Hayden, a defenseman, will join the Vikings for their first season as program in the fall.
"I'd say it played a pretty big part of it," Tyler said of playing with his brother again. "Obviously, Raboin is pretty cool. My brother texted me (during recruiting) and asked me if I was going to say, 'Yes.' I told him that I wanted to play with him one more time."
Kittson County Central is not in the state rankings and the Bearcats are in Section 8A with top-ranked Warroad (23-0), fifth-ranked East Grand Forks (12-10) and seventh-ranked Detroit Lakes (16-5-1). So it's unlikely that KCC will reach the state tournament.
But Tyler said that the fact that he's committed to a Division I program should serve as a notice to other players at small schools.
"Ever since I was little, watching the Gophers, I thought it would be pretty cool to play in college," he said. "It feels nice. It makes me kind of happy because I basically come from nothing up here. It kind of shows pretty much everyone that you can come out of nothing."
Tyler is an excellent athlete. He's played outfield and pitcher on the high school baseball team the last two years and is debating over whether or not to play baseball or golf in the spring. As a sophomore, he took fourth in the Class A state golf tournament.