Heading into their 10th anniversary season, the Granite City Lumberjacks have averaged about four players per season moving on to play in college. So, not surprisingly, that was exactly the number from last season’s team that committed to schools for 2016-17.
Forward Adam Marty and defenseman Tyler Mros are headed to Bethel University, which already has had five Lumberjacks alumni play at the school – the most for any college that has recruited talent from Granite City.
Meanwhile, forward Tommy Hall is headed to Hamline University and defenseman Kevin Finley is moving on to Midland (Nebraska) University. Hall becomes the first Lumberjack to attend Hamline and Finley is the third Jack to attend Midland.
All four players played significant roles for Granite City last season, and three of the four were on the team in 2015, when the Jacks won the NA3HL’s Silver Cup.
Mros (a 6-foot-2, 205-pound, lefthanded shot) dominated on defense last season, scoring 25 points (7 goals, 18 assists) in 45 regular-season games.
“Playing for the Lumberjacks was the best decision of my life so far,” said Mros, last year’s captain, who is from Big Lake and turns 21 this September. “I went to Monticello High School and our team (combined with players from Annandale and Maple Lake) didn’t have the greatest reputation. I went to play junior hockey in Canada, but I hurt my shoulder after a couple of months. The Lumberjacks gave me a chance to get healthy and it didn’t take me long to see how the whole organization is like a family. It’s something special.”
Mros was more of a role player with the Lumberjacks in 2014-15. He delivered 8 points (2 g/6 a) and was plus-14 in 29 games. But winning a Silver Cup launched him on a second season that included a plus-20 rating. He also excelled at special teams as 10 of his points came on the power play (2 g/8 a) and he set up a short-handed goal.
“When we won the Silver Cup, I was like ‘Whoa, that flew by,’ ” said Mros, who is considering a biology/pre-med major at Bethel. “A couple of good buddies from that team went to Bethel (sophomore center Dallas Marvin and sophomore goalie Jesse Garcia), and I know now that I needed the extra time with the Lumberjacks to mature and be on my own. If I’d gone straight to college out of high school, I wouldn’t have been ready for it.”
Marty (5-11, 170, LH) went through a similar development with Granite City. Despite being the all-time leading scorer from his high school in Somerset, Wisconsin, he had an up-and-down rookie season with 7 points (2 g/5 a) and a minus-1 rating in 34 games.
“I did my research on where I could go and play and you can see that the Lumberjacks have had a great record the past couple of years,” Marty said. “Playing on teams like that were key for me to get a chance to play in college.”
Marty scored 26 points (13 g/13 a) in 46 games last season. He also finished plus-6 and had 8 power-play points (3 g/5 a) and 3 while short-handed (2 g/1 a).
“My first year, I was just fighting for a spot in the lineup,” said Marty, who will be 21 in December. “As you get older, your confidence level goes up. Last season, the coaches who scouted our games saw what I can do in tough situations.”
In addition to Marvin and Garcia, Mros and Marty will another former Lumberjack, junior forward Taylor Brown, with the Royals. Marvin (4 g/12 a) was third in scoring last season with the Royals. Garcia was their No. 1 goalie.
This coming season, they’re all likely to go head-to-head in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference against Hall, who’ll play for St. Cloud native and former Minnesota Gophers forward Cory Laylin with the Pipers.
Hall (5-7, 160, LH) played at St. Cloud Cathedral before embarking on a junior career during his senior season. He played for three other NA3HL teams before joining Granite City for 13 games last season. He averaged a point per game (5 g/8 a), was plus-7 and totaled 40 PIM.
“I got traded three times and I was kind of upset by the time I got (to Granite City),” said Hall, 20, who previously played for the North Iowa Bulls, Alexandria Blizzard and Minnesota Wilderness the past two seasons. “But I fit in well during the time I was there. And I’m going into college with confidence because of what I learned from (Lumberjacks coach and general manager) Brad Willner. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. He taught me a lot about mental preparation and he’s a nice guy. But he holds you accountable, too.”
In 76 career regular-season games in the NA3HL, Hall had 47 points (15 g/32 a) and was plus-32 with 94 PIM. He’s looking forward to trying to replicate that at Hamline, which in 2017 will practice and play home games in the new Minnesota Wild practice facility.
The Pipers produced two All-Americans last season in forwards Brandon Zurn and Charlie Adams, both of whom signed minor-pro hockey contracts immediately after Hamline was eliminated from postseason play.
One way or another, Hall could follow in their path to pro sports.
“I’m excited about Hamline because it’s a good program and they have the major I wanted,” said Hall, who plans to go into sports management with a business minor. “I’ve already been able to work at some camps this summer with (Laylin). I can’t wait to get going.”
Finally, Finley (6-2, 200, RH) is from Alexandria and played 72 regular-season games for the Lumberjacks during the past two seasons. He totaled 24 points (3 g/21 a), was plus-36 and had 108 PIM.
“Playing with Granite City allowed me to mature as a hockey player,” Finley said. “They have a great staff. I can’t say enough about what they did for me. I always thought the biggest jump in hockey was from bantams to high school, but now I think it’s from high school to juniors. You’re on your own and it’s basically your job to play. I needed to see what that was like in order to get this opportunity.”
With the Warriors, who went 16-12-8 last season, Finley likely will get a chance to stand out. Midland coach Jason Cirone, who previously coached in the NA3HL, calls Finley a “big-body defenseman,” and someone who “will make us harder to play against.”
“(Finley) comes from an organization (Granite City) that wins, and that will rub off on our guys and make us a better team,” Cirone said.
Finley plans to major in business at Midland, a Division I program in the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
“They treat it as a varsity sport,” Finley said of the school in Fremont, Nebraska. “It has a nice feel.”
The Lumberjacks will begin figuring out who will replace the four college prospects when training camp opens at the end of July.
“(Mros) was a shutdown defenseman who could quarterback the power play, walk across the top of the zone and get shots through,” Willner said. “(Marty) was a great two-way forward and we parked him in front of the net on the power play. (Finley) has grown a lot, has great offensive skill and can just hammer the puck. And (Hall) is an agitator to play against. He scored some big goals for us in the last minute of games where he’d come down and rifle one over the goalie’s shoulder. When he turns it on he can be dynamic.”
Replacing those four will be key if the Lumberjacks hope to continue their success in the NA3HL. During 2011-12, they had the second-best record in the league, won the West Division title and eventually the playoff championship, too. From 2012-14, only two league teams had better records each season. After winning the Silver Cup in 2015, the ‘Jacks missed a chance to defend it in 2016 and have their sights set on a return in 2017 – perhaps with the help of a few more future collegians.