Senior wing will be looking to be more of an impact player for SCSU this season
Kyler Kupka has seen his role increase each season with the Huskies. With the departure of many offensive-minded players from last season, he is looking to step into playing a larger role in the scoring this season.
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — There are players that make a huge impact from the moment they step into a college hockey lineup. Then there are players who develop and, by the time that they are a senior, they become a go-to player.
Kyler Kupka wants to step into that role for the St. Cloud State men's hockey team this season. Kupka, a senior from Camrose, Alberta, and the Huskies will open the season at 6 p.m. Saturday against the University of St. Thomas at St. Thomas Ice Academy in Mendota Heights.
"(Preseason) camp always seems like it goes on forever until that first game," Kupka said. "We're ready. Drop that first puck."
Kupka's eagerness to get started is understandable. Each season that he has been with the Huskies, his role and production have increased.
He had two assists and played in 12 games as a freshman. As a sophomore, he had three goals and eight points in 23 games. Last season, he had five goals, 18 points and was a plus-12 in 37 games for the Huskies.
After last season, SCSU lost 44.4% of its goals and 43% of their points. Kupka is going to start this season on one of the Huskies' power-play units for the first time and will be on a line with fifth-year senior center Grant Cruikshank and fifth-year senior wing Micah Miller.
"I think Kyler Kupka is a guy that can really step into a bigger role," said Brett Larson, who is beginning his fifth season as SCSU's head coach. "He's always been a dependable winger for us. He's been a good penalty killer.
"But I see him getting some reps on the power play and getting more offensive looks and opportunities this year. We're relying on a guy like that to step up and give us some additional scoring to make up for some of the scoring we lost."
In an intrasquad scrimmage on Sept. 25, Kupka was on a power-play unit with Cruikshank, forwards Veeti Miettinen and Adam Ingram and defenseman Dylan Anhorn. Miettinen is a Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick and Ingram is a Nashville Predators draft pick. This summer, Anhorn was in prospects camp with the Calgary Flames and Cruikshank was in prospects camp with the Washington Capitals.
Last season, the Huskies led NCAA Division I in power-play percentage at 31.3%.
"Anytime you get a chance to step into that, it's a big opportunity," said Kupka, who had eight goals and 13 assists on the power play in 60 games in his last season of junior hockey in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. "I think I'm ready to fill that. There's obviously a lot of skilled players like Veeti and Cruikshank on our unit. When you have those guys to play with, it makes my job easy."
Kupka has decent size (6-foot, 185 pounds) and his strength comes in plays close to the net or when he is in traffic.
"Good, easygoing farm kid from Alberta," Larson said of Kupka. "We're pushing him to have a little bit more fire because he's so laid back.
"But when he does play with that jam, he's extremely effective. He's got a really good stick. His small areas plays are really high end."
It's a mindset, wanting to get to those (scoring) areas and getting to the hard areas and paying the price to score. And it's just watching videos and understanding where time and ice might be able to create more chances.
Kupka said that, besides his offseason workouts to get stronger and faster, he has been working on developing the mental side of his game to prepare for the season.
"I want to focus on my offensive side more," he said. "There's a lot of guys that left big roles, especially offensively ... Other guys are going to have to step up and produce. That's something I've been focusing on and I want to be able to chip in this year.
"It's a mindset, wanting to get to those (scoring) areas and getting to the hard areas and paying the price to score. And it's just watching videos and understanding where time and ice might be able to create more chances."