Alberta forward verbally commits to Augustana, can bring vital intangible to Sioux Falls
Brett Meerman played for the expansion Blackfalds Bulldogs in the Alberta Junior Hockey League last season. He is tied for the league lead in points (17) and leads it in power-play assists (8) through 10 games.
The idea of going to an NCAA Division I men's college hockey team that has never played a game may scare off some players.
For Brett Meerman, he knows some of what to expect.
Meerman recently committed to play hockey for Augustana University, which will play its first season in 2023-24. Meerman, a 20-year-old wing, is beginning his second season with the Blackfalds Bulldogs of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
I’m honoured to announce my commitment to play NCAA Division 1 hockey and further my education at Augustana University. I would like to thank my friends, billets, past and present coaches, teammates, and most importantly my family for making this all possible. Go Vikings pic.twitter.com/sPPMhSPH9b— Brett Meerman (@brett_meerman) October 9, 2022
Last season, the Bulldogs were an expansion franchise.
"I know what it's like having to deal with a team in its inaugural season," he said. "Last year here in Blackfalds, it was the first year of the team and it was a bit of a rollercoaster. But I learned a lot from it.
"I think it'll be nice to do that again and kind of know what to expect at some points. I can talk some guys through it, even though I'm a younger guy, I've been through it."
So what was it like being on an expansion junior hockey team?
"Things aren't always going to go perfect," said Meerman, who played for the Grande Prairie Storm in the AJHL from 2019-21. "Last year, we started with a terrible loss (7-2 to Fort McMurray) and started the season 1-7. We made a couple trades, but after Christmas, we had the second-best record in the league.
"It just showed that if you stick with the process and work hard, things will go your way."
The Bulldogs finished in fifth place out of eight teams in the AJHL South Division with a 28-31-1-0 record.
Meerman led the Bulldogs in goals (25), assists (37), points (62), power-play goals (7), power-play assists (15) in 60 regular season games. He was 14th in the league in goals, tied for 16th in assists, 17th in points and tied for 13th in power-play assists.
This season, he is tied for the league lead in assists (13), points (17) and power-play assists (8) in 10 games for the Bulldogs.
"I feel like I've always been a pretty high-skilled, smart player," said Meerman, who had 12 goals and 28 points in 61 games for the AJHL's Grande Prairie Storm from 2019-21 before joining his hometown team. "But I feel like I've really added different elements of my game. Like I feel like I have a much better defensive stick now and making reads.
"I feel like I'm better at baiting guys with my stick and forcing them to make passes through me. I think I've gotten faster. My goal every year is to to be better than last year. I want to get better every day and I feel like I'm doing that so far."
Deciding to bypass major juniors
For many Canadian players, the goal is to play major junior hockey because it can be a quicker road to pro hockey. Meerman, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 177 pounds, discovered that major junior was not the route he wanted to take.
"After I went to one camp, I kind of realized it wasn't the spot for me," he said. "From then on, I didn't go to another camp, even though I was invited back. I just went to junior 'A' camps and it went from there.
"I knew a bit about the NCAA (option) and I knew that's where I wanted to go. I was 16, 17, so I didn't know everything about it. But I wanted to take that route because I could take more time for development. Obviously, I'm not a big guy. It was not like I was a 6-4 guy as a 16-year-old. I need that time to grow."
Meerman said that there were "4-5 other schools" that were in contact with him this fall. But Augustana head coach Garrett Raboin and assistant coach Andy Boschetto got in contact with him during the AJHL Showcase, a Sept. 29-Oct. 2 event in Blackfalds.
"They talked to me after both games and Andy Boschetto came over for coffee in the morning and they just took a different approach to me," he said. "I didn't get the offer until Wednesday or Thursday. By then, I had kind of already decided I was going to go there."
So he took a leap of faith without having visited the campus. What won him over?
"The coaching (staff) and the approach they took," said Meerman, who wants to major in business and sports management. "I know (Raboin) coached at St. Cloud (State) and Minnesota, so he, obviously knows what he's talking about. Those are two pretty prestigious schools. Andy also was a very personable coach. He told me he wasn't going to make it easy on me, but he also told me that if I needed any help, it would be easy to reach out to him, which I appreciated."
Raboin's personality and the outlook he gave for the program were big factors in Meerman choosing the Vikings.
"I like his character," Meerman said of Raboin. "He seemed like he knew what he was talking about, but he also seemed liked he was personable. He kind of joked around with me on the phone, which I wasn't expecting. He's a head coach and I was a little nervous — not gonna lie.
"But he made the conversation easy and I respected that about him. He spoke highly of me, but everyone recruiting someone is going to do that. When you've been at a winning program (like Raboin), you know what it takes to get to that point. I'm not saying that, first year, we're going to do that. We're a first-year school and there's going to be a learning curve. But eventually, I know we can get to that level because he knows the ropes and how to get there."
And Meerman said that does not mean that the Vikings are expecting to get trounced in their first season.
"(Raboin) said that we're going to go in and compete right away and build towards being one of the best teams," Meerman said. "He also said that we could build the best team we possibly could and still not win. It's a first-year thing and there's a learning curve.
"There's always a bunch of things that go into it like building character in the room. They don't have any history there, so it's starting fresh."