Former Grand Forks Central forward Will Howard's stock continues to rise, commits to Augustana
The 20-year-old is in his third season playing for the New Mexico Ice Wolves of the NAHL. His father, Tarek Howard, played defense for the University of North Dakota from 1983-87.
Will Howard had been receiving recruiting interest from some colleges since the end of last season.
There were a few teams showing interest this fall, but when Augustana University men's hockey coach Garrett Raboin started calling a few weeks ago, the game changed.
"I talked to Garrett Raboin probably two weeks ago and he's called me probably every other day since then and I just really like him and I think it's going to be a great spot and he offered me," Howard said. "I didn't have to think really long about it.
"I just loved the coaching staff, they're going to have great facilities there and I like that small school feel," said Howard, who has not met Raboin in person or been on campus. "I think it's going to be awesome. I haven't heard a negative word about Augustana or the coaching staff. Everyone I've talked to says that they love Raboin and (assistant coach) Andy (Boschetto). The coaches are the main thing, but it's close to home. The positives outweigh the negatives by a lot."
I’m proud to announce my commitment to play Division 1 hockey at Augustana University! Thank you to all my teammates, coaches, friends, and family that have helped me get to where I am today. A huge thank you to the NM Ice Wolves organization for making this possible. #GoVikings pic.twitter.com/Kyeyq4wd7q— Will Howard (@Will_Howard13) October 9, 2022
Howard announced on Twitter on Oct. 9 that he has committed to play for the Vikings, who are building an arena and will play their first season as an NCAA Division I program in the fall of 2023. The 20-year-old forward from Grand Forks, N.D., is playing his third junior season with the New Mexico Ice Wolves of the North American Hockey League.
He is off to the best start of his career with eight goals, 12 points and is a plus-9 in eight games. He is tied for third in the NAHL in goals, tied for the league lead in game-winning goals (3) and is tied for seventh in plus/minus.
"I would say that I'm a grinder, not a huge skill guy," said Howard, who is listed at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds. "I finish my checks, play a simple game ... I'm not very flashy. I'm not probably the prettiest skater. I get to the front of the net, hang out there, tip pucks and (I'm) mucking it up front."
Howard may be underselling his skill set a bit, according to Phil Fox, who is in his fourth season as the Ice Wolves head coach and general manager. Last season, Howard's production took a big leap over his rookie year. He had 18 goals, 42 points, 118 penalty minutes and was a plus-14 in 56 regular season games, helping New Mexico win the South Division title.
In 13 playoff games, he had four goals, six points, 25 penalty minutes and 29 shots on goal to help the Ice Wolves reach the Robertson Cup semifinals. And he adds a bunch of elements that do not end up on a statistical sheet.
"Will does all the little things that not a lot of players want to do — all the ugly stuff in hockey," said Fox, who was named the NAHL Coach of the Year in 2021-22. "He goes hard to the net, is a great F1, can block shots and his second and third effort are always there.
"He's just relentless all over the ice. He's a dedicated 200-foot player. We've had him for three years and he's just gotten better and better every year. He has a work ethic and a desire to get better," Fox said of Howard, who had two goals and four points in 31 games as a rookie. "I think Will would be the first to tell you that, when he first came in — he's come a long way. We'll just say that."
Father played for UND
Howard went to New Mexico after playing three seasons for Grand Forks Central High School, helping the Knights win back-to-back state titles in 2018-19.
High school was the first age group that his father, Tarek Howard, did not coach him. Tarek played defense for the University of North Dakota from 1983-87.
"It was pretty good and he never favored me, treated me the same as everyone else," Will said of having his dad as a coach. "He, obviously, taught me a lot about what I know about the game of hockey. I wouldn't be here without him. He was a great mentor, not just for me, but for everybody that played for him."
As Will was going through the recruiting process, he admits he had to convince his father that Augustana was the right fit.
"My dad tried to slow me down a little bit, 'Maybe weigh your options and see what other offers come down,'" he said. "I said, 'I'm going here. I just need you to be on board.' Eventually, a couple days, I got him fully convinced. My mind was made up. I just needed him to get on board with me."
During the process, Howard and Fox had several meetings to discuss his decision.
"I think Garrett did a great job with Howie and really emphasized his want for Will's character, he's a great student — when you're starting a program, those are the pieces of the puzzle that make it all work," Fox said of the recruiting process. "I was really happy with his decision.
"Will, for the last couple of weeks, he was coming into my office and we were discussing the discussions he was having," said Fox, a former Northern Michigan forward. "I was on that path at one point. I told him, 'You're going to know when it feels right.' He just said that it feels right with Rabs. I'm a big fan of Rabs and I know he's going to do great things. As a staff, I said, 'If you feel right about it, then it's the right decision.'"
Fox said that Howard will be one of the team's captains this season.
"The skill has improved every year and I think that allows us as coaches and as an organization to want to wait on this guy because we know that there's something special that's going to come," Fox said. "He does all the right things, all those little things, that you don't have to pound into him.
"The rest of the game will come and it certainly has. From that first year — a COVID year — he was a part of the team and the work ethic he had ... His willingness to be a good teammate — because he didn't play every game. He had to stick it through and trust us. We had trust in him and now he's being rewarded for it."