MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – The climb that North Iowa Bulls alumnus Lucas Wahlin has made through the junior hockey world is a rare one.
The individual steps are quite common – junior hockey players get called up on a daily basis. More than 50 players in the North Iowa Bulls organization alone earned the call up the ladder during the team’s decade in the North American Tier 3 Hockey League.
Wahlin’s climb isn’t remotely surprising, either – what is surprising is how complete the climb has been.
The first North Iowa player to ever appear in the United States Hockey League has now added an NCAA Division I destination on to his climb, with Wahlin announcing his commitment to the University of St. Thomas earlier this week. Wahlin’s announcement brings North Iowa’s Tier-III-to-Division-I list to 10 players – he’ll join the previous man on that list, forward Aaron Swanson, on the Tommies’ roster next season.
The former Hill-Murray High School standout has now made an impact at every level of American junior hockey, spending the 2019-20 season in Mason City with the Bulls before climbing to the North American Hockey League last season with the Kenai River Brown Bears. This season, he’s made the jump again, entering the week with appearances in all nine of the Lincoln Stars’ USHL contests.
“We are very excited that Lucas Wahlin has achieved his goal of earning an NCAA Division I opportunity with the University of St. Thomas,” said North Iowa head coach and general manager Todd Sanden. “Lucas is one of the hardest-working and most determined players I have coached. We wish Lucas all the best, and hope that he succeeds in his academic and hockey endeavors at UST.”
Wahlin posted 41 points over 57 varsity games at Hill-Murray, helping the Pioneers reach the state tournament as a junior in 2018 and posting better than a point a game the following season as a senior. As a lacrosse player, he wasn’t half bad either, earning honorable mention all-conference honors as a junior and even leading his team in assists as a freshman.
Wahlin first appeared on the junior hockey radar in the 2019 NAHL Draft, with the Topeka Pilots taking him in the sixth round that summer. However, he would make North Iowa his first stop on his junior hockey journey, posting 59 points, including 32 goals, in a West Division championship season. He wasted no time igniting the Bulls’ offense, posting two goals at the Breezy Point North Stars in his very first junior contest. By Thanksgiving, he’d already picked up 32 points, and ended up spending the holidays in New York with the NAHL’s Jamestown Rebels.
That stay lasted five weeks, and would prove to be a mere pause in his march to an NA3HL Rookie of the Year season and a First-Team bid in his first junior season. He signed a tender with Kenai River in late January, cranking out three goals for the Brown Bears in a February call-up, and painted his North Iowa masterpiece to close out the year with a seven-game point streak and multi-goal games in both halves of the season’s final weekend at Granite City.
He landed back in Alaska in 2020-21…or was supposed to. Wahlin did spend the season as a Brown Bear, playing under current North Iowa associate head coach and general manager Kevin Murdock. However, restrictions on travel and gatherings in the state of Alaska thanks to COVID forced the team to remain in the Lower 48 until mid-April, and the team returned to Minnesota a month later for its Robertson Cup playoff run. Through the tumult, Wahlin was as solid as ever, notching 27 points in 44 games, and earning an NAHL Top Prospects nod at year’s end.
The season was historic for Kenai River in other ways, too – Wahlin’s five points in the Midwest Division Semifinals helped the Brown Bears dispatch the Janesville Jets and earn their first-ever playoff series win. His Game 4 winner helped the Brown Bears force a decisive fifth game in the division finals against the Minnesota Magicians, where their incredible run would come up just a game short of the Robertson Cup tournament. In all, Wahlin would post nine points, a point per game, in the Robertson Cup playoffs.
The Woodbury, Minnesota native has quickly become a fan favorite in Lincoln as well, posting three points in those first nine games. His first USHL goal was a likely play-of-the-year favorite, jousting a second-period goal into the top of the net against the Sioux Falls Stampede from his belly after being pulled down on a rush to the net.
“His desire to get better is what impresses me,” Russo said. “He does the extra stuff in the gym and after practice. He’s the first one to sign up for community service. It’s all genuine. He’s just a really good human being and he’s a great example of the type of player we want here in Lincoln.”
He’ll join a St. Thomas team that is completing a climb of its own, going directly from the NCAA Division III Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference to the Division I Central Collegiate Hockey Association this season. His new coach is one of the most respected names in college hockey, with Rico Blasi taking over on the Tommies’ bench after spending 20 years at Miami of Ohio, including 10 trips to the NCAA tournament.
“St. Thomas stuck out to me with the unbelievable coaching staff that they have,” said Wahlin. “Coach Blasi has built championship teams in the past, and I know he has the capability of doing it again at St. Thomas. The coaching staff at St. Thomas believes that I can be a key role player for them throughout my four years there, and I’ll have plenty of chances to prove to the CCHA what I can do.”
The North Iowa Bulls congratulate Lucas Wahlin on his commitment to the University of St. Thomas, and wish him continued success in his athletic and academic career.