Huskies get transfers from Alaska, North Dakota for next season
Defenseman Karl Falk from the Nanooks and forward Nick Portz from the Fighting Hawks have committed to play for St. Cloud State. Falk is from Sweden, Portz is from St. Cloud.
ST. CLOUD — The St. Cloud State men's hockey team has received commitments from a forward and a defenseman out of the transfer portal.
The Huskies will be adding former University of North Dakota and St. Cloud Crush forward Nick Portz and former University of Alaska defenseman Karl Falk. Both are expected to join SCSU this fall.
Portz is a right-handed shooter, who played mostly wing for the Fighting Hawks the last two seasons. In 28 games last season, he had two goals, nine points, seven blocked shots, four penalty minutes and was a plus-1. He won 52% of his puck battles and averaged 8 minutes, 4 seconds on the ice
In two seasons at UND, he had four goals, 16 points, 22 penalty minutes, 50 shots and was a minus-3 in 66 games. He has two seasons of eligibility remaining and is listed at 5-foot-11 and 174 pounds.
"I loved my time here and I still have a good relationship with the players and the coaches," Portz said of North Dakota. "But ultimately, I wanted to find a place where I played a little bigger role and had more of an impact on the team. It just felt like with the option of the portal, it was the right thing to do."
He had options in the portal, but what were some things that helped him pick St. Cloud State?
"When you go into the portal, you want to go in with an open mind and make sure you find the best fit for both you and the school," he said. "Once coach (Brett) Larson called and we had a few conversations, we talked through it a few times and made sure that it was the right opportunity for both me and the team, too, with their interest. I think they both aligned. It seemed like it was the best fit and it was a good situation for both me and St. Cloud State.
"I wanted to go to a spot that's going to win games and have a chance at both a league championship and a national championship. I thought St. Cloud State, with the skill they have, the players they have coming back, along with the coaching staff, was exactly what I was looking for."
Portz, 22, has strong family ties to St. Cloud State. His mother, Kris; sister, Nickie; aunt, Julie; and grandfather, Larry Sundby, all played tennis at St. Cloud State. Larry was the head coach of the women's tennis team at SCSU from 1988-2005, had a career record of 311-129 and remains an assistant coach for the Huskies. His father, Jay, is also an SCSU graduate.
"That's also a big part of it because my family likes to come to watch a lot of games and there's a big family tie," Portz said of playing in his hometown. "I think my grandparents were the second people I called after I said, 'Yes' to coach Larson. They're very excited.
"Lars asked if I had any interest in coming home. I said, 'Absolutely. I think it's pretty cool.' Obviously, I grew up watching them. Johnny Swanson is someone who graduated from the same high school (as me) and went on to St. Cloud State and had a good career, Will Hammer ... I think it's pretty cool when guys from St. Cloud and get to play for their hometown (team). It for sure had a big factor in my deciding to come home."
Portz played high school hockey for one season for St. Cloud Tech and then two seasons for the St. Cloud team when Tech and Apollo became a co-op team and was a three-time All-Central Lakes Conference pick. He also participated in two state tennis tournaments as a doubles player for St. Cloud Tech. After high school, Portz played three seasons of junior hockey (Minnesota Wilderness, NAHL, 2018-19; Tri-City Storm, USHL, 2019-21; Muskegon Lumberjacks, USHL, 2021).
"Juniors was good," he said. "My last two years, I had an opportunity to play with some good players. My first year (in Tri-City), I was on a line with Matthew Knies and Colby Ambrosio, both outstanding players and that was a good opportunity for me and kind of jump-started my career."
This season, Knies was the Big Ten Player of the Year and a top three finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. A second-round draft pick, Knies recently made his NHL debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ambrosio is a fourth-round draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche and recently completed his third season at Boston College.
Portz's last season of juniors in the USHL, he had 15 goals and 38 points in 52 games and ended up committing to North Dakota.
"It wasn't a situation where I was highly recruited out of high school," said Portz, who had 71 goals and 136 points in 78 career high school games. "I didn't really have that many options. I went to the North American League and had a pretty good year and I went to the USHL ...
"That's when stuff started to pick up and I got more confident, knew I belonged at that level. My path was a little bit slower ... But once I found my game at the junior level, I had a couple different (Division I) options."
So when Portz is playing well, what does he bring to a team?
"I think I'm a pretty passionate player, I like to win and I'm competitive," he said. "On the ice, I like to go to the net and play a 200-foot game and look to create energy, have an impact on the game and (I want to) get back to putting pucks into the net."
Falk, 23, is from Värmdö, Sweden, is a left-handed shooter and played defense the last two seasons at the University of Alaska. Falk had three goals, five points, 38 shots on goal, 24 penalty minutes, 22 blocked shots, two game-winning goals and was a plus-7 in 31 games for the Nanooks last season. He averaged 14:26 of ice time, won 55% of his puck battles as a sophomore. He played in 12 games as a freshman.
"It's been the best time of my life, the best decision to come up here and play," Falk said of playing for Alaska. "We were a really tight knit group and they're all my brothers and we're family. That was the hardest part about deciding to transfer, leaving those guys and not being able to see them on an every day basis."
So why go into the transfer portal?
"I feel like my time in the US is a bit limited and I wanted to see for myself what else there is to offer," Falk said. "It's more personal and didn't have anything to do with the guys or the staff or anything. It was more of a personal decision. I felt like if I didn't take the opportunity to transfer, I would regret it."
How did he end up picking St. Cloud State?
"I felt like I had a great talk with them," Falk said of the Huskies coaching staff. "Their program speaks for itself. It's a very good opportunity for me and they lost a couple guys. I think I'll be able to fit right in with the guys and we can do some great things.
"They've been a really good team the past 10 years," he said of SCSU, which has played in eight of the nine NCAA tournaments held in that time. "That's always a very big positive. I kind of felt like it would be a really good opportunity for me to move after college and sign a pro contract. I feel like they have the right track record to work with me and make that happen. My dream, my goal is to be a professional hockey player."
Falk played one season of junior hockey in North America after playing junior hockey in Sweden. In 2020-21, Falk played for the Minnesota Magicians in the NAHL. In 44 games with the Magicians, he had 20 assists, 24 points, 14 penalty minutes and was a minus-3. He also has two seasons of eligibility remaining and is listed at 6-3 and 205 pounds.
His twin brother, Simon, is a forward and also played the last two seasons at Alaska. Simon is also in the transfer portal and this will be the first time in their lives that the brothers have not played on the same team.
"We kind of decided to split up next year and it will be the first time we play on different teams," he said. "It will be something different, but we'll manage and just deal with it.
"This is completely new territory for us. I don't know what to expect because I don't know anything else. This is the first time in my life where I'll be truly alone. I've always had him by my side, no matter what we do. At the same time, when coach Larson and St. Cloud called me and said that they wanted to bring me in, Simon understood right away. He said that if they would have called him, he would have taken it, too."
The brothers are from a suburb of Stockholm and started playing hockey at age "7 or 8." They moved out of the house to play hockey at age 15. They ended up playing their three seasons of junior hockey for VIK Vaseras HK in the top league in Sweden.
Their last season of junior hockey, they decided to play in the NAHL to try to get the attention of NCAA Division I schools.
"We figured out that college hockey is something that is really big over there," he said of the United States. "The opportunity to combine both academics and athletics is pretty much unparalleled. We looked into that and realized that we were probably going to need to play another year of juniors over in the US."
So how would he describe himself as a player?
"I take huge pride in being a defensive presence," Falk said. "I feel like I play the game the right way. I make the easy passes pretty much every time and break the puck out every single time. I move my legs and move the puck on the blue line and create offense. Basically, I just try to make my teammates better."
Falk said that he has an 3.75 cumulative grade-point average as a business major.
The Huskies are losing five forwards, four defensemen and a goalie to graduation or transfer from last season. On Wednesday, SCSU got the good news that defenseman Dylan Anhorn plans on returning for his last season of college eligibility.