After walking away from golf, Anchorage Wolverines' Hayden Hennen commits to Augustana
Hayden Hennen is a 20-year-old who played his high school hockey and golf for Kittson Central High School in Hallock, Minn. He nearly quit hockey after his senior season to pursue college golf.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Hayden Hennen nearly walked away from one sport he loves to pursue another.
Hennen made the last four Minnesota Class A state golf tournaments held during his career for Kittson County Central High School in Hallock. Hennen, who played varsity golf for six years, had decided he was going to Grand Canyon University and play club golf with the hope of moving up to the varsity team.
But he had not lost his love for hockey and he made a late decision to try to play some junior hockey.
"About a month before the hockey season, I decided to change my mind and went and played with the Granite City Lumberjacks," Hennen said.
The Lumberjacks are a Tier III junior NA3HL hockey team in Sauk Rapids, Minn. He had three goals in two games for the Lumberjacks and then got called up to play for the Anchorage Wolverines in the Tier II North American Hockey League.
The defenseman helped the Wolverines reach the championship game of the NAHL's Robertson Cup, which helped stir up some NCAA Division I recruiting interest. He had conversations with Bemidji State, Minnesota State University-Mankato and Augustana University.
He toured Augustana in June and Hennen decided to wait until after the NAHL Showcase to make a decision. On Oct. 14, Anchorage announced that Hennen had verbally committed to play for the Vikings.
"At the Robertson Cup, I had a few good games and I ended up talking to (Vikings coaches) there and then went on a tour of Augustana in the middle of June," Hennen said. "Coach (Garrett Raboin) showed me the plans for the rink and I liked that. They ended up offering me in the middle of summer and I told them that I wanted to wait until after the Showcase (in September) to see my other options.
"Augustana was just the best fit for me in the end. They have a really good coaching staff and I feel like that's the best place for me to continue to develop. I'm really excited for next year."
Hennen, 20, will join the Vikings for their inaugural season as a Division I program next fall. Between the regular season and the playoffs, the 6-foot-3, 181-pound defenseman had 12 assists, 16 points and was a plus-9 in 54 games for Anchorage last season.
Good size, offensive upside
This season, Hennen has five points and 10 penalty minutes in 12 games under new head coach Evan Trupp, a former University of North Dakota forward.
"He's got that tall, lanky body," Trupp said. "He's got a lot of speed when he gets going and he can go head-to-head very well. He's got a sneaky, good shot. He kind of runs one of the power-play units and he's got (an) all-around (game) that you want to see in a 'D' man.
"He's got a big offensive side to his game, but he's good at picking his spots on when's a good time to jump in the play. At the same time, he's so defensively sound and he's got that long stick and he thinks defense first."
Kittson Central is not one of the powers in Minnesota hockey. The program has not made it to the state tournament since Hallock High School made it in 1961.
His first two seasons with Kittson Central, the Bearcats went a combined 11-30-4. But Hennen's last three seasons, Kittson Central was 44-18-1 and he finished his career with 42 goals and 131 points.
"We didn't really have many kids each year — we ran 3-4 'D' and two lines pretty much," Hennen said. "My graduating class only had 11 kids. Our town has 900 people, so we don't really get a whole lot of recognition up there.
"I wouldn't say our teams were amazing, but my (graduating) class was pretty good and we had pretty good seasons my sophomore to senior seasons and competed pretty well."
His younger brother, Tyler, will be a senior forward for Kittson Central this fall and is playing in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League. In his first four varsity seasons, Tyler has 198 points and plays golf and baseball in the spring.
Getting used to the physicality
For Hayden, golf remains a passion, but hockey has moved to the forefront.
"Last year, I think there was a lot of learning and getting used to the physicality in this league," he said. "It was a little hard for me. It honestly took me about half the year just to be confident with myself.
"I have the confidence now and I've learned to be a little more physical. After last season and going into this one, we know what it takes to win games in this league. We have a veteran group of guys, a lot of returners. I'm excited to see how far we can go."
Trupp is in his first season as head coach after being an assistant for Mike Aikens, who left after last season to become an assistant coach at St. Lawrence University. Trupp, who is from Anchorage, said that it has been fun to watch Hennen's development.
"Playing in front of our crowd — it's probably just as big as his hometown," said Trupp, whose team is averaging 864 fans per game. "He's taken a lot of strides in terms of maturing and just doing things the right way.
"He's just the nicest kid," Trupp said. "He will be wearing a letter this year and is a guy who everyone loves and looks up to for answers. He's vocal when we're not playing up to par. He's not afraid to tell the guys to step it up and get things going. He's a guy who people will listen to."