1 ice rink in St. Louis, 2 games, 5 Rochester hockey players
Five Rochester high school graduates -- four from Lourdes, one from Century -- were in the same arena over the weekend for a two-game junior hockey series.
Van Albrecht is in his third season of junior hockey, his third season with the North American 3 Hockey League’s New Ulm Steel.
So when he says NA3HL rookies Charlie Kielty, Jackson Heim and Aidan Swee can be big contributors for the Steel, he knows what he’s talking about.
“They’re playing the same games they played in high school, just (adjusting it) for the next level,” Albrecht said. “They’ve adjusted and fit in really well and have become big-time players for us.”
Albrecht might be a little partial to that trio; he had plenty of advance knowledge of their playing style and abilities.
Albrecht, Kielty and Heim were teammates for a season with the Rochester Lourdes boys hockey team in 2019-20. Kielty and Heim were sophomores on that Eagles team, while Albrecht was a senior.
Those three also played some youth hockey and summer-time hockey with Swee, a 2022 Century graduate.
Now, they’re all together on one team.
They ran into another familiar face over the weekend, when New Ulm played a two-game series at the St. Louis Jr. Blues and Matthew Mahoney, the Jr. Blues’ fourth-leading goal scorer. Like Kielty and Heim, Mahoney is a 2022 Lourdes graduate and played hockey with the four Rochester natives who dot the Steel’s roster this winter.
In all, five Rochester natives met up more than 500 miles away to play in a pair of regular-season junior hockey games. New Ulm won Saturday’s meeting 7-2 — Swee had the game-winning goal and an assist. St. Louis won the rematch Sunday, 4-2.
“Aidan’s a very skilled player,” said Heim, who has two goals and eight points in 26 games for the Steel this season. “He gets out of the corners and wins battles so well.
“He sees things that other guys don’t. He’ll do something in practice almost every day that makes you go ‘woah.’”
Swee had seven goals and 21 points for Century a year ago as a senior. He excelled on the power play and showed that, in addition to his skill, he’s difficult to knock off the puck.
“The coaches just ask me to work hard every shift, pressure hard,” said Swee, a center. “They want me to get in the corners and battle, support the defensemen and get the puck out of the zone. They’re just asking me to work hard.
“It’s my first year (of junior hockey), so I’m still getting my legs under me, still finding my confidence.”
It’s no accident that four Rochester guys ended up in New Ulm this season. Perhaps it would have been five, had Mahoney not been selected by the Jr. Blues — who have battled injuries and illnesses throughout the season while going 7-26-0 so far — with the fourth pick of the second round of the NA3HL Draft (No. 38 overall). Mahoney has no qualms about playing for the Jr. Blues, though. He said he’s enjoying his rookie season of junior hockey and enjoying living in the St. Louis area.
“I love the team and the guys down here,” Mahoney said. “I’m learning a lot from my teammates and coaches. … Just seeing the progression we’ve made as a team. We have a lot of speed and talent.
“... I understand that I’m not going to be the star here or play the role I did in high school. Everyone here was probably the No. 1 guy or top-line guy on their (previous) team. The coaches say play hard, play your position, stack your shifts and get better with every shift.”
Albrecht, the Steel’s captain this season, put a bug in his coaches’ ears about Heim, Kielty and Swee. Then he put a bug in their ears about the Steel organization.
“He’s top-notch, always so positive,” Heim said of Albrecht. “He always has the right thing to say. On the ice, he’s a little grinder (listed at 5-feet-8, 175 pounds), not the biggest guy, but never afraid to throw his weight around.”
Kielty and Heim have brought the chemistry they developed together in youth hockey and at Lourdes, to New Ulm this season. They were two of the Eagles’ top four scorers last season — Kielty with a team-best 42 points and Heim with eight goals and 22 points — as Lourdes went 19-8-0 and came within a goal of advancing to the Section 1A championship game.
Kielty said he’s grateful that Albrecht pushed for his former high school teammates to join him in New Ulm this season.
“He’s always coming in with a positive, ‘let’s do well today’ attitude,” Kielty said of Albrecht. “He wants everyone on the team to succeed.”
Albrecht’s leadership has helped the Steel to a 14-18-4 record so far this season, including a 6-4-0 mark in their past 10 games. New Ulm started the season 5-13-3 in its first 21 games, but has turned things around, going 9-5-1 in its past 15.
“I think we’ve all just been pulling the rope in the same direction,” Kielty said. “We started playing well as a team and having more fun with it. … Now we’re working together. It’s a good feeling to go to the rink. It’s a whole lot different when you show up on Monday morning after having a good weekend.”
Recording a pair of shutouts and going 2-1-0 at the NA3HL Showcase in late December was a big confidence boost, too.
“Coming out of the Showcase, we had a little buzz and I think everyone is buying in and playing hard,” Albrecht said. “We’re all on the same page. … It’s contagious. We sniffed a couple of wins and have kept going.”
Five former Rochester high school hockey players went head-to-head over the weekend in a two-game North American 3 Hockey League series in St. Louis.
|PLAYER||POS.||HIGH SCHOOL||'22-'23 TEAM||'22-'23 STATS|
|Van Albrecht||D||Lourdes||New Ulm||2-7—9|
|Jackson Heim||D||Lourdes||New Ulm||2-6—8|
|Charlie Kielty||D||Lourdes||New Ulm||3-12—15|
|Matthew Mahoney||F||Lourdes||St. Louis||6-3—9|
|Aidan Swee||F||Century||New Ulm||5-5—10|