Walker Duehr did his best to push his personal frustration aside in December and into January.
His team was winning and that’s what mattered most.
Duehr was playing well, yet the senior forward from Sioux Falls, S.D., couldn’t help but notice that nearly two months into the season his stat line still had some round zeros in the places where he expected himself to have some crooked numbers.
“The first few games of the season, the points weren’t falling and that can be frustrating at times,” the 6-feet-2, 211-pound Duehr said. “I tried to not let that get in my way, just play my game and keep sticking with what I’m doing. Eventually the points started to come.”
Have they ever.
After going without a point through the first eight games of this season for the Minnesota State University men’s hockey team, Duehr has caught fire and turned into a point-per-game player.
With his size and speed, he’s been a force to be reckoned with throughout his college career. Over the second half of this season, he has become a force on the scoresheet, too, for the No. 3-ranked Mavericks (18-3-1 overall), who host Ferris State in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs this weekend at Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center.
Duehr enters the postseason with seven goals and 13 points in 22 games played. He’s recorded all of those points in the past 14 games.
“He’s been productive, but also we get a lot of energy from him,” MSU head coach Mike Hastings said after Duehr recorded a goal and two assists in last weekend’s series against Michigan Tech. “He’s big, he can move and he’s starting to produce offensively. Walker is giving us valuable minutes and he’s a handful in that offensive zone.
“Again, he’s another guy who’s put a lot of work into his trade and I’m happy for him and the success he’s having.”
Perhaps the most impressive part about Duehr’s second-half surge? Regardless of who he’s playing with, he has produced.
He hasn’t played more than seven games with the same linemates all season. Duehr played seven games on a line with fellow senior Jared Spooner and powerful sophomore Brendan Furry. Junior Julian Napravnik took Spooner’s place on that line for six games after Spooner was injured on Feb. 5.
Last weekend, Duehr played on a line with Spooner and standout sophomore center Nathan Smith. That trio accounted for two of the Mavericks’ five goals in a two-game sweep of Michigan Tech to close the regular season.
“I can’t take credit for doing all that work,” said Duehr, who was named honorable mention WCHA Forward of the Week for his performance against Tech. “A lot of the points and the work that came along with it was alongside everybody who was out there on the ice with me, my linemates. Being able to click with those guys has helped.”
Duehr, the cousin of former Mavericks forward Zeb Knutson, is a rarity in college hockey this season: He’s the lone Division I player who grew up in South Dakota.
Brady Ferner, a forward at RPI, is a Dakota Dunes, S.D., native, but the junior is not playing this season as the Engineers opted out of the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 concerns.
“I take pride in where I come from,” Duehr said. “I love South Dakota and go back home quite often. It’s nice being so close. My parents can come to our games. … It’s something I take pride in. I love where I come from. I love to go back and give back to the community, help out however I can.”
It’s been some time since Duehr, 23, played hockey in his home state, though. He played for the Russell Stover U1 AAA program in Kansas City, in 2011-12. The following season he spent with the Las Vegas Storm U16 AAA team, then he played for the Chicago Young America U16 AAA team in 2013-14. From there, Duehr played for three teams in the USHL over two seasons before joining the Mavericks in 2017-18.
Duehr has 47 points in 96 career games for MSU and is a part of the only class in the 60-plus year history of the WCHA to win four consecutive regular-season championships. Duehr and his classmates have ensured the MacNaughton Cup has remained in Mankato throughout their time in the program.
“That’s awesome,” he said. “It’s something that, when we’re done here with our time in Mankato — which hopefully isn’t for a little bit here — we’ll be in contact forever, probably, and be able to look back on that and say ‘wow, that was pretty cool.’ It’s pretty special to go through it with those guys.”
Duehr and Hastings were quick to point out that Duehr and his classmates aren’t satisfied, though, with what they’ve accomplished. There’s more out there for them, namely getting the program’s first NCAA tournament victory, and chasing a national championship.
“That group has allowed our program to grow and brought it to new heights,” Hastings said. “They’re not satisfied. They’re looking forward to the next step.”