IceJacks’ nine D-II seniors leading the way to success in ’18-19
Northern Arizona University is a perennial powerhouse in ACHA Division II circles, and that is no different for the 2018-19 season.
This year, the IceJacks are led by a talented group of nine seniors, all of whom bring different ingredients to the proverbial table.
What they all have in common, however, is buying in to the NAU strategy and process, being team players.
Of the nine seniors – forwards Desmond Conley, Lucas Lomax, Max Mahood, Alex Shupe, Steven Thompson and Kristjan Toivola, defenseman Christian Foster and goaltenders Jaxson Gosnell and Josh Nolan – all but Conley (Alaska), Foster (California), Thompson (California) and Toivola (Washington) hail from Arizona. Mahood was born in Winnipeg but raised in Arizona.
Each senior has a story to tell, too.
“I chose NAU because it’s very similar to Alaska in terms of weather and outdoor activities,” said Conley. “Another key reason for attending NAU was because of their strong hockey team, which was a factor I weighed when choosing schools. I transferred here from Alaska after having surgery, so I’ve only been here for three years, but have enjoyed all that Flagstaff has to offer and playing hockey with amazing teammates.
Lomax had offers to play college hockey elsewhere, but really wanted to come home to Arizona and NAU was the fit.
“We have a tight-knit group that I really enjoy being a part of as well as NAU being a good school,” Lomax said. “You get the sense that you’re not really in Arizona because we get the snow up here and the chance to play pond hockey. The youth programs are growing here, and a lot of the guys do volunteer work there and help coach and mentor those kids, so it’s really a small hockey family up here.”
Growing up in Peoria, Lomax played for the Peoria Roadrunners and Phoenix Firebirds.
Now at NAU, Lomax wants to end his senior year with a bang.
“My expectations for this team are to make it to the national tournament,” said Lomax. “The last two years here at NAU, we’ve had really solid teams and been able to make it to nationals and compete at the highest level. We’ve tried to create that winning mentality and winning culture here at NAU. Every year we want to be the team to beat and want a chance to be called national champions, which I think a lot of the guys on the team who have been here a while have completely bought in to that idea.”
Mahood knew early on that NAU would be the school for him.
“I chose NAU because of the Jay Lively Arena and the supporting fan base,” said Mahood, a former Chandler Jr. Polar Bear. “I came and watched a game and the fans really drew me in. The thing that separates hockey in Flagstaff is training at 7,000 feet. It’s a competitive advantage that you can see in the youth teams and when teams come to play us at the Jay.
“We want to keep getting better and growing together as a team. From the start of the season to where we are now, you can see the difference and we have to ramp it up all the way to nationals, learning from mistakes and embracing our highs.”
A lifelong player for the Arizona Hockey Union, Shupe is a Gilbert native who has loved playing in Flagstaff.
“I thought it would be some place new coming from Gilbert,” said Shupe. “It was a really nice change of scenery. The people I’ve met here have made me stay here, and I love most of the people I’ve met here. Flagstaff is a great hockey town because it’s a small town, so a lot of the people get behind our team and the kids really look up to us.
“We just have to keep it rolling the way we are. We had a rough start, but we have really picked it up the last couple of games. Just need to keep that going.”
Thompson arrived on campus already having a personal reason to be there.
“I first came to NAU cause my brother Ryan played here and I wanted to get a chance to play for the same team,” said Thompson. “I think what makes Flagstaff a good hockey area is the community. Every hockey team in Flagstaff plays out of the same rink and many of our players work with the youth teams here.
“Our ultimate goal is to bring back a national championship and I think this team has the ability to do that.”
Toivola transferred to NAU from McKendree University (Ill.) after his sophomore year and has never looked back.
“I had been in contact with the hockey staff, knew the team’s winning reputation, and loved the Flagstaff area,” said Toivola. “The success at NAU and the great local youth program have both helped make hockey more popular in the area, which keeps new players coming and the fan base and community growing.
“This season, I expect us to make a push for one of the top two spots in the Western Region and the automatic bid to the national tournament.”
When Foster was looking at colleges, he had two criteria: cold weather and hockey.
“NAU had both,” Foster said. “What has kept me here all four years has been my drive to get my degree in Construction Management so I can work for California Pools and make a name for myself in the pool building industry.
“I think what makes Flagstaff a great hockey area is the youth hockey. I have seen some of the Northstars play and practice, and the skills that these kids have are leagues ahead of where I was when I was their age. This shows me that Flagstaff has coaches that are putting the time and effort to develop the kids, which is really what I believe makes Flagstaff a great hockey area.”
Gosnell chose NAU because it was close to home but wanted a change in scenery, plus he already knew a couple players on the squad.
“Flagstaff is a great hockey area because there is one rink for all the teams which leads to a closer relationship between all the players and there is a great opportunity for NAU players to coach and mentor some of the younger players,” said Gosnell, a former VOSHA Mustang and DYHA Firebird. “We have a really good group of guys this season. Everyone works hard and has a team-first mentality. I think it’s only going to get better for the team this season.”
Nolan said one way or another, he was bound for NAU,
“Ironically, I had always said growing up if I decided to stop playing hockey that I would go here,” said the former Arizona Bobcat and Jr. Coyote. “During my senior year of high school, I was burned out from hockey for various reasons, so I decided to go to NAU instead of pursuing the junior route trying to play NCAA hockey. I did not play my first year here, but then decided during my sophomore year to try out. I have stayed here because of the friends I have made, how well I have done in school, the hockey team, and I have also become involved in a few other things. With all of those things going on, it has made my time here fun and purposeful.
“The majority of our team was here last year, so we all have a bitter taste from our nationals performance last year, which I think helps drive us this year.”
Photos/Wyatt Rutt Photography
— Matt Mackinder
(Dec. 7, 2018)