ST. CLOUD, Minn. — It has been a year of adapting for people throughout the world because of the coronavirus pandemic. Plans for events have gotten delayed or cancelled and it has provided unexpected challenges.
For St. Cloud State men's hockey recruit Evan Bushy, he has experienced all of those, but been able to find the positives of his experiences. When the 2020-21 junior hockey season started, the 18-year-old defenseman was expecting to play junior hockey for the Sioux City Musketeers in the United States Hockey League. The Musketeers made a trade for him last season and Bushy played four games for them after the season for Thief River Falls High School had ended.
But like several players this season, Bushy got caught in a numbers crunch with the Musketeers and was not playing in games. With several college teams and junior hockey leagues opting not to play this season, the USHL has had a surplus of talent to choose from.
So Bushy ended up leaving Sioux City to join the North American Hockey League's Minnesota Wilderness, a team that plays its home games in Cloquet, Minn. Bushy, who had been chosen by the Wilderness in the NAHL Supplemental Draft in May, joined the team in December ... only to have the state shut down hockey for a month.
"I was in Sioux City for a month or so and things didn't end up working out," he said. "I kind of waited it out to see what would happen, but I decided that this would be the best option for me and for my development.
"It was close to home and I knew a couple guys on the team and it seemed like a good spot for me to go. The (USHL) is really good this year, a lot of good players and I just wasn't playing. So I wanted what's best for me, being somewhere I can play and somewhere I can develop."
St. Cloud State fans will have a chance to see where Bushy is at in his development on Wednesday. The Wilderness (5-5-0-1-1) play the St. Cloud Norsemen (4-13-0-0-0) at 7 p.m. at Municipal Athletic Complex. It will be the first home game for the Norsemen since Oct. 30. Bushy expects his older brother, Brendan, a junior defenseman for the Huskies, will be in attendance.
Working, living in Esko
When Bushy joined the Wilderness, the billets he was assigned was the family of Paul and Marsha Koski, who live near Cloquet in Esko. The bad news hit that hockey was being shut down, but Bushy was fortunate that he landed with the Koskis. Two of their three children — Brook and Bryce — are youth hockey players.
The Koskis have an area where their three kids (ages 8-12) can shoot pucks and they live close to the Midway River. Rather than going home during the pause, Bushy stayed with the Koskis, who own Granite Works, a custom fabrication countertop supplier.
"I worked for them, helping around in the shop, doing some install stuff," he said. "A lot of my buddies live here in the area. If I'd have gone home, I wouldn't have had access to ice and I couldn't have trained.
"Here, in the backyard, my billets live on a river and my billet dad floods it and I was able to skate on that. I was able to work out with some of my buddies in the area."
Bushy said that he has enjoyed being with the kids in his billet family and giving the two hockey players some tips.
"I bring them out there and shoot some pucks with them and coach them a little bit," he said. "It's fun and it's keeping me busy."
Bushy, who graduated from high school in the spring, is not going to school this season. With the time off and staying with his billet family, there has been another positive that has come out of the oddness of this hockey season.
"I got in really good shape during the shutdown," said Bushy, who is listed at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds. "I'm probably in the best shape of my life. The shutdown was good for me. You've got to make the most out of what you have."
Last season, between his two stints in the USHL, Bushy helped Thief River Falls reach the Section 8A semifinals and led the team in assists (27) and points (42). In 107 career high school games, he had 47 goals (10 game-winners), 73 assists and 120 points.
Bushy played for Team USA in the Under-18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, which was held in August 2019 in Piešťany, Slovakia, and Břeclav, Czech Republic. Team USA took sixth in the tournament.
This season, he has an assist, 30 shots on goal, two penalty minutes and is a minus-3 in eight games with the Wilderness.