Ryan Smith won’t hesitate to comment if you ask him about Hudson Friesen. The head coach of the Selkirk Steelers knows he’s got himself one of the best players in junior hockey anywhere in Canada.
“He’s a great kid,” Smith said, even after a recent 4-2 loss to the Virden Oil Capitals. “He gets it. He knows what has to be done to be successful He works hard and he’s a great team guy. He’s just a great kid to have on our team. We like him a lot.”
It sure has been quite an 18-month stretch for the former defenseman from Selkirk. First, he was moved from defense to forward. Then he grabbed the new position by the horns and wrestled it to the ground.
Last year, with 36 goals and 45 assists, he was the No. 2 scorer in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League behind Dauphin’s 59-goal scorer Jesse Sinatynski. This year, he’s currently sixth in scoring with 23 goals and 27 assists. His linemate, Parker Thomas, leads the league with 26 goals and 39 assists.
Twice this season the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Friesen has been named MJHL player of the week and earlier in the year, he thanked his linemates for the success he’s achieved. Two weeks ago, he was named player of the week after scoring two goals and eight points and helping the Steelers catch the Winnipeg Blues for first place in the Addison Division. Since then, the Blues have run away from the Steelers, but Friesen and Thomas just keep scoring.
Right now, Selkirk is 24-18-5, second in the Addison eight points back of the Blues. If the Steelers continue to play as well as they have in the last month, they’ll remain a lock to make to make the post-season. No doubt Friesen will play a major role in the team’s success.
For Friesen, the past 18 months have changed his hockey career. Agreeing to move from defense to forward early in the 2011-12 season, he said it took him a few games to get accustomed to his new surroundings, but once comfortable, he exploded. Not only has he become one of the most dangerous offensive players in the MJHL, he has also caught the eye of a number of U.S. college programs.
“I’ve been talking to a few colleges,” said Friesen, who completed the fall term at the University of Manitoba last year but has only taken courses sporadically since then. “It’s an exciting time. It’s really been a great year.”
The 20-year-old Friesen, who started his hockey career with the Hazelridge Hawks, comes from a family that is committed to post-secondary education. His mom, Kris, just completed her Masters degree — with a thesis on “Aboriginal Youth” — at the University of Winnipeg.
“We have pretty deep Metis roots,” Hudson said. “My mom worked very hard on her thesis. It was a huge process for her. We’re all very proud of her.”
Smith knew he had a good player when Friesen joined the team as a 17-year-old in the fall of 2010, but over the first season, he realized he also had a smart player. That’s why it wasn’t difficult for Smith to suggest to Friesen that he move to forward. There was never any doubt in the coach’s mind that his young defenseman had the speed, hands and smarts to handle the new position.
“Obviously, I’d rather be a forward than a defenseman,” said Friesen, just before a game earlier in the season against the Steinbach Pistons. “I’m in the action a lot more at forward. I handle the puck a lot more and it’s just a lot more fun. And it’s definitely nice to score goals.”
Friesen is going to need to score his share over the next couple of weeks. The Steelers shouldn’t have a problem making the playoffs, but they obviously want to stay among the top three or four teams in the league. There is no way they’d want to start the post-season against the Blues. In fact, most experts believe a Steelers-Blues Addison Division final might be the best series of the post-season.
“We have a really good team here,” Friesen said. “We’re well-coached and there is a lot of talent here. I’m excited about our chances but we still have a long way to go.”
One suspects Hudson Friesen’s career has a long way to go, as well.