Justin Kirchhevel, who just completed his freshman season at Alaska-Anchorage, confirmed to TYT today that he is transferring to Penn State for the coming season. The 2011-2012 season of ACHA competition will meet his mandatory "sit-out" year as dictated by NCAA Division I transfer rules, and he'll be ready to play out his remaining eligibility beginning in 2012-2013.
Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves (WCHA)
5'10", 190 pounds
UAA player page
Season Team Lge GP G A Pts PIM
2006-07 Omaha Lancers USHL 13 0 0 0 2
2006-07 Springfield Jr. Blues NAHL 7 4 4 8 16
2007-08 Fargo-Moorhead Jets NAHL 33 8 11 19 68
2008-09 St. Louis Bandits NAHL 55 17 34 51 73
2009-10 St. Louis Bandits NAHL 18 4 7 11 36
2009-10 Fairbanks Ice Dogs NAHL 21 12 10 22 52
2010-11 U. of Alaska-Anchorage WCHA 8 2 1 3 2
Kirchhevel (pronounced Kur-CAVE-uhl) played in just eight games last year, due to the lingering effects of a broken ankle suffered in the final game of his junior career, a playoff tilt for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
That injury put his hopes of becoming one of the first two South Dakota natives to play NCAA Division I hockey (Matt Ferris, who plays at Princeton, formerly coached by Guy Gadowsky, is the other) in jeopardy, so when Alaska-Anchorage offered him a spot as a recruited walk-on last summer, it didn't take long for Kirchhevel to accept. The move paid immediate dividends for Seawolves coach Dave Shyiak too. Once Kirchhevel was healthy in late October, he scored a pair of redirection goals in his collegiate debut and added an assist the next day.
But he was never able to stay in the lineup long enough to develop consistency. He finished the season not only pointless after that second game, but without a single shot. That doesn't mean Penn State fans should be worried about his health though.
"My ankle is actually the best its ever been," he said. "I was supposed to have surgery this summer and I had a walking boot on for six weeks at the end of the school year."
"I guess that is exactly what my ankle needed according to the doctors."
While it's impossible to say for certain what Penn State's roster will look like in 2012 when NCAA play gets underway, one thing is clear. Not too many Nittany Lions will have previous NCAA game experience, let alone in the always-tough WCHA. While that might eventually mean that Kirchhevel emerges as a team leader, he's not quite ready to declare himself one.
"I will be one of the older players on the team once we make the transition and it will be a learning process for all of us," the former captain of his junior team said. "A new start always sparks great opportunity, but I'm not too worried about that right now and I'm just going to focus on what is best for the team and contribute in whatever way Coach asks me to."
"Coach," of course, is Gadowsky, who played a lead role in getting Kirchhevel to Penn State once he made the decision to leave Anchorage for a fresh start.
"Coach Gadowsky is a professional caliber coach who knows how to propel his players on and off the ice," he explained. "He has a long track record of making players live up to their potential and I can't wait to get on the ice with him."
Kirchhevel also cited PSU's strong hockey background and academic track record as reasons for picking the school. He also believes there were good reasons why PSU picked him.
"I think my strengths are being a heads-up hockey player that can anticipate the play and make plays and create space and time for my teammates," he said.
"I've been working a lot on my two way play the past couple years with numerous coaches so that I can be solid contributor on both sides of the puck."
Prior to committing to UAA, Kirchhevel had a nice junior run, primarily in the NAHL, where he averaged close to a point per game over three-plus years to go with an outstanding +39 rating over his final two seasons. His 2009 St. Louis Bandits squad won a third straight Robertson Cup as league playoff champions. Because the NAHL is the only Tier II Jr. A league in the U.S., the Bandits were also the USA Hockey national champions in that category for a third time in a row. Kirchhevel was named to the West Division team for the 2010 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament.
|Kirchhevel as a Fairbanks Ice Dog in 2009-2010.|
But to truly understand what Penn State has in Kirchhevel, one has to understand his commitment to the game. The Brookings, South Dakota native didn't come from a hockey hotbed and frequently made 210-mile trips to Minneapolis with his father in order to compete at a level appropriate to his ability.
As a young teenager, Kirchhevel's father, Pete, often drove him 210 miles to Minneapolis for practices and games in an elite league.
"I'd be sleeping, he'd be driving,'' Justin said of the late-night trips back to Brookings, a community of about 20,000 just across Minnesota's western border.
Well, not always.Minneapolis had to seem like a trip to the grocery store once Kirchhevel's career advanced. He played midget in Denver, then of course bounced to five different stops during his junior career. But he never wavered.
"He'd do his homework on the way home, too,'' Pete said.
"I think it is just a matter of how bad you want it and your love for the game," he said. "There's just something about getting on the ice and representing not only your school, but where you are from. Obviously it has been a long road but it's always been worth every second and I would do everything over again no matter what."
"I'm just lucky enough to be able to be apart of the inaugural season for the Nittany Lions and cant wait to be apart of a great tradition at Penn State for the next four years."