North hockey’s Zach Urdahl has become the Huskies’ old reliable. It hasn’t really been a question whether he’d get on the board or not in a game this season.
“It’s just how many,” coach Ryan Parker said with a chuckle.
The 6-foot junior heads into the holiday break ranked fourth in the state with 20 goals, trailing the two leaders by just two. He’s notched four hat tricks in his first ten games, something he said is unprecedented at any level of his career, let alone against a tough varsity schedule. The hat tricks have come in high pressure situations as well, with all four occurring in Big Rivers competition.
Only once, a Dec. 7 game against Northland Pines, was he held off the score sheet. He’s notched two or more points in eight of the ten games.
“That’s pretty cool considering last year I was in the high teens in goals,” Urdahl said. “It’s nice to know the offseason work is showing and I’m getting rewarded for it.”
It’s true, Urdahl has made enormous improvements statistically. He’s already surpassed his sophomore year goal total by four despite playing less than half the games. While he’s not on pace to match his assist totals from last year (24 in 2017-18, six this year), it’s likely he’ll still pass he’s previous career best in points by at least 10.
“He’s been growing every year that we’ve had him,” Parker said. “He definitely has a niche to score goals and the great thing about it is he loves to do it. When he gets an opportunity to get to that point, he’s all in. He sells out.”
Urdahl credits a strong offseason program for the jump. Unlike many of his teammates, he doesn’t play other sports, instead investing his time away from the Huskies into additional time on the ice.
“Every kind of decision I make is kind of hockey based,” Urdahl said. “I always try to focus on that.”
He’s gotten bigger, stronger and perhaps most notably, faster.
“I think my speed for sure has gotten faster,” Urdahl said.”Being able to skate around guys, not really making too many stickhandling moves, but just small ones have kind of helped me get ahead of a player and around him.”
With that added boost and a knack for finding the open space, Urdahl has become North’s go-to goal scorer. He has nine more goals than Sam Stange and more than four times as many as the Huskies’ third-leading scorer, Joey Koller.
“He’s got that, how do you say it, swagger about it,” Parker said. “That’s what he does. That’s what he loves to do.”
He isn’t just being rewarded on the score sheet. He was already getting Division I looks, having visited Wisconsin in the fall. The step forward in production at North, in addition to his work with Team Wisconsin, only increased interest. On Friday, he committed to the Badgers, adding to the growing list of Chippewa Valley players making their way to Madison. Stange and Altoona native Daniel Laatsch are expected to join the Badgers in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Former Memorial skater Ty Emberson is a freshman with Wisconsin this season.
Having two future Division I talents at the same time at North seemed unbelievable a few years ago. The Huskies haven’t produced a Division I player since Derrick LaPoint went to North Dakota in 2007, but suddenly, there’s a spotlight on the program.
“Hopefully that translates into the rest of our guys,” Parker said. “We’ve got other guys that have been wanting to get to that next level. ... We’ll tell them all the time, we understand, ‘Yeah they may be here watching so-and-so, but you get so many more opportunities to be in front of these guys.’”
There’s a tough reality for high school hockey coaches when it comes to your players’ success. With Urdahl already proving his worth on the high school circuit and with Team Wisconsin, there’s a good chance the Badgers would like to prepare him for the collegiate game with a junior season in the United States Hockey League. His USHL rights are owned by the Lincoln Stars after the team selected him in the 2018 draft.
For Parker, this is familiar territory. He just finished going through the whole process with Stange, who, thankfully for the Huskies, opted to stay at North for his senior season.
Urdahl is trying to put the USHL decision out of his mind during the year.
“Usually you don’t think about it,” Urdahl said. “You just kind of focus on where you’re at and what you’re doing right now.”
As for the now, the Huskies are 6-3-1 after going 2-3-1 at the start of the non-conference slate. They’re a perfect 4-0 in the Big Rivers.
“I think it prepares us for down the road, later in the season,” Urdahl said of the pre-Big Rivers schedule. “Our record doesn’t show amazing right now, but I think we played a lot of hard teams.”
Looming on the Big Rivers slate? A January 3 date with arch-rival Memorial.