While the North American Hockey League’s season came to an early end Tuesday because of the novel coronavirus, one thing continued for the Tier II junior A league: Help players achieve goals of playing college hockey.
Two Fairbanks Ice Dogs, right wing Adam Eisele and defenseman Tim Erkkila verbally committed Tuesday to programs in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, a league of 10 NCAA Division I teams.
Eisele, an 18-year-old native of Lake Elmo, Minnesota, committed to Minnesota State University Mankato.
“Obviously, right away, you know the coach (Mike Hastings, head coach) is one of the best there is in the NCAA,” Eisele said by phone Tuesday night.
“I’m pretty lucky to be going somewhere like that.”
Eisele also admired the fans at the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center in Mankato, Minnesota.
The Mavericks, of Mankato, Minnesota, captured the WCHA regular-season title and swept the Alaska Anchorage Seawolves in a best-of-three quarterfinal playoff series March 6 and 7 in Mankato.
Eisele, when he made a campus visit in February, also admired the fans at the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center in Mankato, Minnesota. They remind him of fans he became familiar with this season at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
“The fan base they’ve got there is almost as good as the Ice Dogs’,” Eisele said. “I wouldn’t say as good, but they’ve got great fans down there and that’s going to help a lot.
“I met some of the guys (Mavericks players) there and I’m excited to play with them.”
Minnesota State was scheduled to host the Michigan Tech Huskies in a best-of-three semifinal series, set for March 13-15, before the NCAA canceled winter sports postseason events because of concerns about the coronavirus.
Erkkila, a 19-year-old from Brighton, Michigan, committed to Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan.
“Northern Michigan, obviously, has a rich history of hockey and academics,” Erkkila said by phone. “I really like their coaching staff’s vision for me and for the next four years of their team.”
Erkkila said Wildcats head coach Grant Potulny and his staff plan to help him develop his game.
“Try to develop my game as much as possible and turn me into as much as an asset as they can going into my four years there.”
Northern Michigan placed third in the WCHA regular season and lost both games of its quarterfinal series against Michigan Tech. The Wildcats were eliminated after 4-3 loss in triple overtime on March 7 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette.
Eisele, after playing one game and recording no points last season for the Ice Dogs, evolved into the Midwest Division-leading team’s fourth-ranked scorer with 18 goals and 25 assists for 43 points in 51 games.
“He’s got unlimited growth and potential. He’s got a good frame,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said by phone. “He’s determined to get better.
“You put that combination together and it could be a pretty good recipe for success.”
Erkkila, in his first season in Fairbanks, generated 2-16-18 totals in 49 games, ranking him 13th among the team’s scorers and third for points among the Ice Dogs defensemen.
“He’s very steady and he does have a lot of offensive tools that coaches really appreciate,” Stewart said.
“He’s on the ice early every single day working on things. He’s just going to be one of those stories where he continues to get better.
“He’s not going to be the guy that pads the top of points production for defensemen, but he’s going to be an integral part because it’s the little things that he brings to his game.”
The 6-foot-1 and 175-pound Eisele, and Erkkila, 6-1 and 190 pounds, are among nine Ice Dogs players on this season’s roster to commit to D-I programs.
Erkkila hasn’t decided yet on a major but he’s considering a career in dentistry. Eisele is planning to major in business or sports marketing.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.