Go East, Young Man: Solow Commits to Merrimack, Hockey East

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – When former North Iowa Bulls defenseman Jeff Solow says “so long” to his NAHL home in Amarillo, Texas this weekend, he’ll say “hello” to a Division I career in Hockey East. Solow announced his commitment to Merrimack College on Tuesday, finally accomplishing a long-standing goal of playing Division I hockey.

“The Warriors were on my list from the beginning, when I put my list [of schools] together in the summer,” says Solow. “I really like the area that they’re in, in Boston – my dad’s from Boston. That was a huge factor, plus the small campus. I think it’s just the right fit.”

Solow has been able to make a major impact in Amarillo, his fourth stop in the North American Hockey League. After short stints with the Soo Eagles, Kenai River and the Keystone Ice Miners, Solow has settled in with the Bulls to the tune of 41 points in 56 games heading out of the team’s road split with Corpus Christi this past weekend. He also earned major kudos from the league two weeks ago, earning the Bauer Hockey Defenseman of the Month Award after posting 11 points in nine games in December.

“The guys here have been great, both the staff and the guys on the team,” says Solow. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to help me get through all of this. It’s crazy how this is happening. I’m just trying to take it all in.”

The Naples, Fla. native didn’t have a long stay on Todd Sanden’s roster during the 2015-16 campaign, but made quite an impact during his time in the NA3HL. Solow played 20 games in a North Iowa sweater, tallying 11 points and a +24 rating and playing a key midseason role for the eventual Silver Cup national champions.

He certainly impressed Sanden, and he made that impression well before he ever took part in a game at the North Iowa Ice Arena.

“Jeff Solow is a player that I believed in the first time I saw him play at the USA Hockey National Championships in 2013,” says Sanden. “My next interaction with him was during a NAHL tryout, where I offered him a spot on our team if he ever needed it.  In his time in the NAHL, we chatted from time to time, continuing to encourage him in his pursuits but always reinforcing the opportunity would always be here if he needed. The time came where Jeff was in need of our opportunity and he came with a desire to regain an opportunity in the NAHL.”

North Iowa won 19 of the 20 games in which Solow took part, witnessing much of the team’s 27-game winning streak, which was an NA3HL record at the time.

“Jeff was a very productive defenseman on a veteran-laden team, who contributed leadership and a winner’s attitude,” says Sanden.  “Sending Jeff to Amarillo was the opportunity he was looking for, and we felt comfortable that he would get the playing time and the chance to continue to showcase his abilities.”

The ride was a bit rougher for the Amarillo Bulls last season, though. The Tier II Bulls battled through a 13-win season, and went the entire month of March without a single win. This year, the team has rebounded and will head into the upcoming weekend in a fourth-place tie in the league’s South Division.

“It definitely takes its toll on you a little bit,” says Solow. “If you have good coaches and good guys and you all stick together, you find a way. That’s the only way I can put it – you find a way to get things done.”

His opportunity at Merrimack College will begin this weekend, thanks to some roster movement in the Warriors’ program. Injuries have left a few holes in the Merrimack roster, in addition to Ethan Spaxman’s return to the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks.

He’ll join a Warrior program that competes in Hockey East, one of the top college hockey conferences in the country. His cousin, Zach Solow of the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints, has already committed to Hockey East rival Northeastern for next season. Merrimack plays a home-and-home set against Northeastern this weekend, starting Friday night on the Huskies’ home rink.

“It’ll be a fun time playing against him,” says Solow. “I’ll actually be playing against one of my teammates right now. George Mika (himself a Naples, Fla. native) will be going to Massachusetts, so I’ll see a few familiar faces next year. It’ll be nice.”

Solow becomes one of a handful of former North Iowa Bulls to reach the Division I level. Most recently, Dominik Florian played 16 games in Mason City in the midst of a three-year NAHL career. He is now seeing significant playing time as a freshman at American International College in Springfield, Mass.

“We are pleased that Jeff has reached a lifetime goal of playing NCAA Division I hockey and believe that Merrimack is getting a great player, teammate, and representative of the institution,” says Sanden.  “We congratulate and wish Jeff Solow many more successes on this next path of his development.”

Jeff Solow Highlights with North Iowa