LLOYDMINSTER, Alta. — Ethan AuCoin’s final weeks are an example of what American colleges and some Canadian junior hockey players are going through with the challenges the pandemic, the NCAA transfer portal and college players are getting a year additional eligibility.

Due to the pandemic, AuCoin, a forward from Calgary, Alberta, did not visit any colleges during the recruiting process.

“With the way our season is going and all the COVID (travel) restrictions, I couldn’t,” said AuCoin, who took a virtual tour. “Everything had to be done through Zoom calls and phone calls.”

Although he hasn’t seen the St. Cloud State facilities in person, AuCoin was impressed with what he saw.

“Obviously the facilities and all of that is world class,” he said. “The program’s victory over the past 10 years speaks for itself.”

AuCoin pledged on February 20 and then made its announcement via Twitter.

When AuCoin will play for the Huskies is another unknown. With the NCAA granting players who played in the 2020-21 season another year of eligibility, the Huskies don’t know how many players they’ll need in the fall of 2022.

St. Cloud State is certain to lose forwards Kevin Fitzgerald and Easton Brodzinski, who are both playing in their final qualifying seasons. But there is also this season’s senior class, which will have the option of returning next season. This class includes Micah Miller, Sam Hentges and Nolan Walker.

“With the (transfer) portal and all the senior (eligibility) they couldn’t make me an offer until last month,” AuCoin said.

Another thing college coaches now need to consider is the Transfer Portal. Ever since the NCAA began allowing athletes to transfer and not lose a season of eligibility in 2021, the transfer portal was overflowing with players seeing what their options were.

The Huskies have transferred three players to the program in the past two seasons, but all three were graduate student transfers: Prior to last season, defenseman Seamus Donohue transferred from Michigan Tech and forward Jared Cockrell from Colgate; Forward Aidan Spellacy joined the team this season from Robert Morris University.

For AuCoin, regardless of how the numbers go, he knows he will be playing hockey next season. At 19, he has one season of junior hockey eligibility left.

“They don’t know which guys are coming back and not coming back, so they can’t give me an answer,” AuCoin said. “When their season is over, they’ll call me. If there’s a vacancy, I’ll go (to SCSU) in the fall. If there’s no vacancy, I’ll play junior. .”

When he comes to St. Cloud State, what kind of player will the Huskies have?

Playing for the Lloydminster Bobcats of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, AuCoin is tied for seventh in the league in goals (34), fourth in power play goals (14) and is tied for 15th rank for points (61) in 59 games.

“I think I have offensive ability, speed and can shoot the puck,” said AuCoin, who is 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds. “Scoring goals is key to my game and I’m capable of playing a game from 200 feet.”

This is AuCoin’s first full season playing junior hockey. Last season it was limited to eight preseason games and two regular season games because Canada ended the junior hockey season early due to the pandemic.

After the season ended, he returned to Calgary. AuCoin is friends with Nick McCarry, who plays major junior hockey for the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League.

“Luckily I have a buddy back home in Calgary (McCarry) whose dad owns a skating rink,” AuCoin said. “We were able to train and skate there with the WHL guys and the Junior A guys. It worked out pretty well.

“It helped me for sure. It helped me transition my game from midget to junior hockey.”

His last midget hockey season (2019-20), AuCoin played for the Calgary Northstars U18 AAA team and scored 29 goals in 38 games.

“He’s an elite level hockey player,” Lloydminster head coach and general manager Nigel Dube said. “The greatest thing about Ethan is his creativity. He’s a really entertaining offensive player with what he can do with the puck.

“When he gets it, he’s very quick and can make high offensive plays at a very high tempo. He’s one of the most fun players in hockey to watch because he plays with so much love and dedication to the game and his teammates. He became a fan favorite pretty quickly.”

And his personality also contributes to it.

“Everyone loves him and he makes the rink more fun every day with the energy and excitement he brings,” Dube said. “You can’t wipe the smile off his face when he’s playing hockey. He’s just as excited for his teammates when they score as he is when he scores. Those are great things to have as a hockey player, as a as a person and as a teammate.”

Interestingly, hockey wasn’t always his top priority.

“My parents were passionate about basketball,” he said. “For some reason their kids started playing hockey and that’s how it goes.”

AuCoin has a younger brother, Cooper, who is a 14-year-old hockey player. But hockey wasn’t the only sport Ethan played growing up.

“I was a big multi-sport guy and it wasn’t really hockey until I got to bantam,” he said of the 15-and-under age group. “I was a big footballer, basketball and baseball (player) – those were the big sports for me.

“During the summers (then) I didn’t once touch the hockey skates or the hockey stick – other than road hockey.”

AuCoin said he plans to major in psychology or business in college.

St. Cloud State forward Zach Okabe (14) makes a pass against Western Michigan during the first period Friday February 11, 2022 at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.

Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

If AuCoin joins the Huskies next season, he will join AJHL alumni Kyler Kupka (Camrose Kodiaks) and Zach Okabe (Grande Prairie Storm). Kupka and Okabe will both be in their fourth seasons with the Huskies in the fall.

Just for reference points:

Kupka had 30 goals and 71 points in 60 regular season games with the Kodiaks in 2018-19. He has four goals, 14 points and a plus-9 rating in 30 games this season.

In 2018-19, Okabe had 31 goals and 58 points in 60 regular season games for the Storm. He has 11 goals, 25 points and a minus-1 differential in 30 games this season.

St. Cloud State forward Kyler Kupka (10) takes the puck past Western Michigan defenseman Michael Joyaux (3) toward goal during the third period Friday February 11, 2022 at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center of St. Cloud.

Jason Wachter / The Rink Live