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Lumberjacks get help from Down Under

 

SAUK RAPIDS — The Granite City Lumberjacks have players from all over the country, from Orleans, Mass., to Fairbanks, Alaska.

Then there’s one player who isn’t from inside American borders: Mitch Humphries, a Melbourne, Australia native, joined the team this season with some goals in mind.

“I’d like to make it to the NAHL some day,” said Humphries, a 19-year-old right wing. “It would be cool to play college hockey here.”

Humphries is eighth on the team in scoring with six goals and six assists with a plus-5 rating for Granite City, which leads the NA3HL by seven points.

The Lumberjacks (17-3-1-0) face Battle Creek in the first day of the Blaine Showcase Tournament at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Schwan’s Super Rink in Blaine.

“Mitch has good speed on the ice, he’s a good skater and he has great vision,” said Granite City coach Brad Willner.

“I see him more as a playmaker than a goal scorer. That’s kind of funny because he started out scoring some goals for us right out of the chute.”

He’s a good teammate, too.

“He works hard to be here and he’s a really good guy to be around,” said defenseman Mitch Gwost. “He’s a hard worker and a real good player to have out there on the ice with you.”

Humphries played youth hockey in Australia until he was 15 years old, when one of his coaches suggested he take his skills to the other side of the globe in Canada.

“I’m kind of a playmaker,” said Humphries, who wants to go to school for engineering. “I’m not too flashy.”

Humphries said 2,000 people under 21 years old are registered to play hockey in Australia, but Humphries added that leagues “aren’t competitive enough” between the ages of 15 and 20 until players can qualify for the senior men’s team at age 21.

He attended Banff Hockey Academy, a prep school in the Rocky Mountains of western Alberta, for four years.

He tried out for the Aberdeen Wings of the NAHL, a league one tier above the NA3HL, before this season but got cut.

“We saw him play at the NAHL camps and we were impressed with him there,” Willner said. “Talking to other coaches who have seen him at other camps, they thought it would be a good fit for him to come here and progress.”

The NAHL’s Coulee Region Chill (Onalaska, Wis.) called Humphries up once this season for one week, but he didn’t see any game action.

Humphries said he’s adjusted well to American lifestyle, living with Gwost — a former player at Sauk Rapids High School — and his family.

“(America) is pretty much the same as Canada,” said Humphries”, who doesn’t have any other family members in North America. “I’d probably move back (to Australia) but I have a lot of friends here all over the U.S. and Canada.”

Added Gwost: “It‘s been going pretty well. (Humphries) is a good kid to live with. Sometimes some of the Australian things he says, I have to think twice about what he’s saying.”