Many college hockey players now play a year or two in junior leagues before moving on to Division I programs.
Brainerd’s Josh Archibald was an exception to that axiom. Last winter he made the jump from the Brainerd Warriors high school team to the starting lineup for the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
Archibald immediately adjusted to Division I hockey. He appeared in 36 games of the team’s 38 games and was one of five Mavericks to score at least 10 goals.
The 5-10, 170-pound freshman scored his first collegiate goal in his first game Oct. 7 against Mercyhurst and a goal Oct. 8 against Colgate. He notched his first collegiate assist Oct. 22 against Alaska Anchorage.
Archibald, drafted in the sixth round in 2011 by the Pittsburgh Penguins, was named WCHA Rookie of the Week on Nov. 15 for scoring two goals and two assists at Bemidji State. Over the holidays he played for the U.S. team in the IIHF World Junior Championships in Alberta, earning two assists.
Following a workout Monday at the Gold Medal Arena in Brainerd, Archibald took a break to reflect on his first season.
Q. What was the adjustment to college hockey like?
A. “It was definitely a big jump for me, going from high school straight to collage. The players are a lot bigger, faster and stronger. I was just working out in the gym, and working out with Joe (Ciardelli) out at out at (Minnesota Hockey Camps), but other than that mentally I thought I was ready.”
Q. How did you earn the rookie of the week honor against BSU?
A. “I don’t know if it was being on home soil in Minnesota that helped me out but I definitely had a great weekend up there with the guys.”
Q. What was the World Junior Championships experience like?
A. Luckily enough, Dean Blais, being my coach at UNO, got me the opportunity to try out for that. I just took it one day at a time at camp up there, and I was fortunate to make the team.
“The experience playing with all those high-caliber athletes that are projected to play in the NHL and be leading scorers, was definitely a dream come true for me, growing up in Canada, and watching that stuff.
“Playing against the Canadians and all the other teams .. being up in Canada every game (the U.S.) played we got booed but we looked at it as a positive. We didn’t do as well as we hoped in the tournament but it definitely was a growing experience.”
Q. UNO finished 11-12-5 in the WCHA, 14-18-6 overall. Your thoughts about an under .500 season?
A. “It definitely was a building year for our team. We had eight freshmen, seven or eight sophomores, so we were definitely a young team. I think being younger we kind of tired out as the year went on. We kind of struggled near the end.”
Q. After the 2012-13 season, UNO will leave the WCHA to join the National Collegiate Hockey Association. What will the switch to another league be like?
A. “That definitely will be one of the top conferences to watch. I’m a little disappointed with all the changing, growing up watching the WCHA, dreaming of playing in it, and then things getting changed. But I think it will be a good change for everybody.”
Q. What are your offseason plans?
A. “I’ve had three weeks off here. May 26 I go back down to Omaha, taking summer classes, then we’re working out every day as a team in the morning, then doing running in the afternoon.”
Q. Minnesota high school hockey adopted stricter enforcement, and tougher penalties, for checking from behind, boarding and hits to the head. Are you seeing the game being called tighter in college?
A. “They started going a little bit stricter on hits to the head and hitting from behind. They’re starting to kick guys out more often for boarding penalties and stuff like that. That’s just a way to enforce it and get it stuck in guys’ heads that those dirty hits are frowned upon.”
Q. Next season, UNO will play in Minneapolis and St. Cloud back to back weekends and later in Bemidji and Duluth. Is it fun to play in your home state?
A. “I’m definitely looking forward to those. Hopefully, we’ll get some fans from Brainerd, my parents and grandparents for sure. They’re happy about those close games.”
Q. Your goals for next season?
A. Personally, I want to grow. Get bigger, stronger, faster, then maybe put a few more points up on the board but that comes along with the team.
“Team-wise, we want to obviously make the playoffs, make the WCHA Final Five, and go to the NCAA Tournament. Those are the goals we set for ourselves early on after last season, that we want to improve on and go for.”
Mike Bialka, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.