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Jaxon Castor makes rare move from club hockey to Division I goalie for SCSU

Senior from Phoenix spent a season with the AHCA Division II team at St. Cloud State to get eligible. In his fourth season with the NCAA team, he is splitting starting time with Dominic Basse on the third-ranked team in the nation.

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St. Cloud State goalie Jaxon Castor (40) stops a shot by Western Michigan forward Chad Hillebrand (10) in the first period Friday, Nov. 11, 2022, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — It was out of necessity, but before Jaxon Castor could play for St. Cloud State's NCAA Division I team, he had to spend a season playing for the school's AHCA Division II club team.

Castor needed to spend a year at the school getting eligible, so he played one season with the club team.

"It was definitely different, but I met some good people and it was fun, but not up to par to the hockey I was used to," Castor said of the level of competition. "I knew it wasn't going to be. It was (a time) to get on the ice, stay in shape.

"It was a lot of fun. But it was pretty tough, not being in (high) competitive hockey for the first time in a long time."

Castor had been recruited by the Division I Huskies, though during that season, he could not practice with the team and the coaching staff could not go and even watch his games.


I remember we joked that we compared it to (former NFL quarterback) Kurt Warner story of him stocking grocery shelves one year before making it to the NFL. We thought this would be a great story if it would work out.
Brett Larson, SCSU head coach

"He was a really highly touted goalie coming up through juniors and then won a North American (Hockey League) championship, but because of some eligibility reasons, he had to spend a year in residency at the school and not be on the team.

"He was willing to take a chance and come play on the club team and try to earn his eligibility and he did that," SCSU coach Brett Larson said. "We had seen a really good goalie all through junior hockey and had the potential to do it. I remember we joked that we compared it to (former NFL quarterback) Kurt Warner story of him stocking grocery shelves one year before making it to the NFL. We thought this would be a great story if it would work out."

Now in his fourth season with the varsity team, Castor is splitting starting time with junior Dominic Basse in goal. Castor, who played 19 games his first three seasons as a backup, is 5-2 with a 2.01 GAA and .923 save percentage. He is 15th in the nation in GAA and tied for 17th in save percentage.

Castor is likely to start the first game of the NCHC series when the third-ranked Huskies (4-2 NCHC, 11-3 overall) play host to North Dakota (2-3-1, 6-6-3) at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday (FOX 9+) at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.

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Bemidji State forward Tyler Kirkup (27) tries to work the puck past St. Cloud State goalie Jaxon Castor (40) during the second period Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

Nontraditional route to Division I

The unconventional route to starting goalie for a Division I team did not start with his time on the club team. There are a few roads less traveled for Castor than most college players.

To start with, Castor grew up in nontraditional hockey area of Phoenix. His older brother, Joey, played hockey and was his gateway to the game.

"I was the youngest kid in the neighborhood and most of the dads in our cul-de-sac were from the Midwest," Castor said. "The older kids got into hockey and, being the youngest, they kind of stuck me in net and shot on me all day. It's how I became a goalie."


It started with street hockey. And even when he started playing ice hockey at 6, he insisted on playing goalie.

"Just watching the (Arizona) Coyotes, I always liked the goalies," he said. "Here I am now, which is pretty cool."

In Phoenix, he played youth hockey and then graduated to play AAA hockey for the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes, first with their 16-and-under team and then with their 18-and-under team. Because of where they were based, every other weekend, they would have to fly to play games in showcase tournaments against teams like the Los Angeles Jr. Kings, the Colorado Thunderbirds and teams in Michigan.

After playing for the Jr. Coyotes, Castor was picked by the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the second round of the 2015 USHL Draft. He was a backup for Dubuque in 2015-16 to future Minnesota Duluth goalie Hunter Miska, then played 50 regular season games and helped the Fighting Saints reach the Eastern Conference finals in 2016-17.

Jaxon Castor
Jaxon Castor
Contributed / St. Cloud State University

Then things got interesting the next season. In 17 games with Dubuque, he was 7-6-2 with a 3.02 goals-against average and .891 save percentage. He ended up being traded from the Tier I Fighting Saints to the Tier II Shreveport Mudbugs in the North American Hockey League.

"I ended up being sent to the NAHL, which ended up being really good for me — probably the best thing that happened in my hockey career," he said. "We ended up winning the Robertson Cup, which is how I ended up (in St. Cloud). Everything happens for a reason.

"I think I had gotten a little complacent and thought I was all that and knew everything. It was kind of a reality check for me. I told myself to work harder and that I'm not quite there yet. Pretty obvious at the time, but I didn't know it. It ended up being a blessing in disguise."

With Shreveport, Castor went 10-5-1 with a 1.50 GAA and .931 save percentage in 18 regular season games. In the playoffs, he was named the Robertson Cup MVP after going 9-2-1 with a 1.66 GAA and .929 save percentage in 12 games and ended up committing to play for SCSU.


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St. Cloud State goalie Jaxon Castor (40) gets ready to stop a shot by Western Michigan forward Cole Gallant (12) in the first period Friday, Nov. 11, 2022, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

Former teammate helps

When Castor got to St. Cloud State, he arrived the same season as defenseman Brendan Bushy . Bushy played with Castor in Dubuque from 2016-18 and Castor said that Bushy helped him get through his season with the club team.

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Brendan Bushy

"Not being around the guys all the time, it makes me more appreciative of the past four years I've been on this team and I don't think I've forgotten that each day is a blessing," Castor said.

In 2018-19, he would spend time in the dorms with the SCSU Division I freshmen, including defensemen Spencer Meier and Bushy and forward Micah Miller, all of whom are now in their fifth seasons with the Huskies.

"Outside of the rink after they would win on a Saturday, which was pretty much a lock because that team did not lose at home, (Bushy) always kept me in the loop, which was awesome," Castor said. "It was a pretty tough year for me, but having a friend like Bushy here helped me get through it."

After getting through that season, Castor was a backup the next three seasons for David Hrenak. Hrenak ended up being hospitalized with pneumonia at the end of the 2021-211 regular season and Castor ended up starting three playoff games.

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For the season, he played 10 games and went 2-4-0 with a 3.21 GAA and .890 save percentage. Hrenak graduated and then the Huskies got Basse, a transfer from Colorado College, to commit in the offseason.

The pair split time and combined for a .935 save percentage and 1.65 GAA.


"It's been good, proving that I can be a No. 1 goalie in this league, which is what I went out to do this year," Castor said. "I have a lot to prove, but we're off to a good start and, hopefully, we can keep it going.

"The more I play, the more I learn," said Castor, who is 25. "Being an older guy, I realize that you have to give it your all in practice. Good practices lead into games and I'm just trying to get better every day.

"I've been trying to simplify my game a little bit and Dom is a good guy to watch. He's probably the most simple goalie I've watched because he's really good positionally. That's definitely helped me. I think we both want to be the starting goalie, but we're on the same team and if we're winning, we're all happy. He's definitely pushing me and, hopefully, I'm pushing him as well."

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St. Cloud State goalie Jaxon Castor (40) dives in a race for the puck against Western Michigan in the first period Friday, Nov. 11, 2022, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

Larson said that it has been fun to see Castor having success after all he has gone through in his college career.

"He's just gotten better every year," said Larson, who also mentioned that volunteer goalie coach Matt Bertram has worked a lot with Castor. "Matt Bertram has pushed him and he's responded to that. He's been preparing for this year because he wants to challenge for the job. So far, he's rising up to that challenge.

"I think the goalies keep pushing each other. That competition every weekend and every week during practice is pushing both these guys to get better. I think that's really helped Jaxon find another level to his game."

Mick Hatten is a reporter and editor for Forum News Service and helps manage TheRinkLive.com, a website dedicated to hockey. He began working for Forum Communications in November 2018 and has covered St. Cloud State University hockey since 2010. A graduate of St. Cloud State, he has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist and has been a youth hockey coach since 2014. mhatten@forumcomm.com

For more coverage of St. Cloud and the surrounding communities, check out St. Cloud Live.
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