HOUGHTON - With several of Michigan Tech's five freshmen forwards already making an impact in last Saturday's exhibition, and with the two freshmen goaltenders in the midst of an intense playing time battle, the Huskies lone defensive recruit may have slipped under the radar.
Walker Hyland, though he will be fighting an uphill battle for playing time within Tech's veteran D-corps, provides a valuable glimpse of what the future of Tech's blue line might look like.
And it's a pretty different picture from the big-bodied, heavily defense-oriented play of current captain Carl Nielsen and assistant captain Brad Stebner, for example.
Michigan Tech freshman defenseman Walker Hyland skates the puck behind his team’s net during the Huskies intrasquad scrimmage Sunday afternoon at Calumet Colosseum. (DMG photo by Stephen Anderson)
Like Tech's other assistant captain Steven Seigo, Hyland prides himself on being an offensive defenseman always ready to jump up in the play.
"Add some offense to our blue line, that's what he does well," Tech coach Mel Pearson said. "He skates well and handles the puck well and he'll push for playing time."
He didn't play in Saturday's exhibition game against Brock, but, according to Pearson, he played well, handled the puck well and competed hard in Sunday's intrasquad scrimmage in Calumet.
Hyland's hockey journey to Houghton actually started in California playing roller hockey under his father Bill's guidance, until squirts when he took to the ice. Then he and his family moved to Minnesota, and after focusing on hockey from a young age, he eventually played three years of high school hockey for the Woodbury Royals, who reached the state tournament in front of 18,000 fans at Xcel Energy Center.
"When I was a sophomore, my first year in high school hockey I was lucky enough to make the varsity team and we had a really good team and made a tournament run," Hyland recalls. "From then I think I wanted to have a future in hockey and continue to play after high school."
He took the next step by returning to California to play for the Fresno Monsters of the North American Hockey League, and the now-5-foot-11, 185-pound defenseman tallied nine goals and 15 assists in 39 games before moving to the Texas Tornado (3-8-11 in 18 games).
He earned a chance to compete at the Waterloo Black Hawks' camp in the United States Hockey League, but the then-20-year-old ended up playing for the Alberni Valley Bulldogs in the British Columbia Hockey League.
There he really took off, compiling 14 goals and 30 assists in 53 games, good for the second-highest scoring output on his team - outscoring 11 forwards on a team that finished with a 22-34-2 record.
He tallied 17 points in the last 13 games and put together five games with at least three points.
"I thought he had a tremendous year in the BC junior league. He's a late bloomer just starting to come into his own, and I was really excited to see the second half he did have," Pearson said. "He's excited to come to Tech and he's an older kid who's a little more mature."
Hyland, now 21 years old, said it was a pretty easy decision to come to Tech, even though he made his commitment in September 2011 before seeing the kind of success Pearson led the Huskies to last year.
"I actually came down (for a campus visit) with (junior defenseman) Dan Sova, who I've known for a while. Me and him worked for my dad over the summer and I came out and checked out the school," Hyland said. "When I was here they just said let's see how your year goes and leave it at that. It started to get a little more serious as the season went on."
Now that he's here, neither Hyland nor the coaching staff knows exactly what his role will be immediately considering Tech has all three of its captains on defense, plus expected steady playing time from Sova and Riley Sweeney. But Hyland feels like he is adjusting to the college level well.
"It was definitely good to play two years of juniors because I definitely wouldn't have been ready right out of high school," he said. "The two years of development, getting older, more mature, and the hundred-something games I've played definitely helped me out.
"I'm just doing what I can getting better every day in practice and showing the coaches what I can do," added Hyland, who, enjoys golfing, fishing and hunting, and, as of now, is majoring in business management. "When I get told where I am, I'll just take that role and do whatever I can to help the team."