Duo prepares for transition to college hockey

Mitch Calvert

The pipeline of local talent to the Minnesota college hockey ranks continues.
Fort Frances products Chris Sinclair and Tyler Miller will be donning the blue-white-and-yellow jerseys of the St. Scholastica Saints hockey team this fall.
“We grew up playing against each other when I was in Kenora and he was here in Fort,” said Sinclair, who now resides in Fort Frances. “He’s one of my better friends here in Fort so it’s good to know someone that close going down there with me.”
Sinclair spent last season as captain of the local Fort Frances Jr. Sabres, finishing third in league scoring in the regular season with 18 goals and 54 assists in 49 games.
He also added seven points in eight playoff games.
“[Sabres’ head coach] Wayne Strachan and [local resident] Gary Beck put in some good words for me, and [St. Scholastica] called me and told me they were going to come and watch,” Sinclair explained.
“They came down a second time when we played the Bearcats in the playoffs and we just went from there.”
Miller, meanwhile, started last season in the OJHL with the Port Hope Predators before a trade at midseason brought him closer to home in the SIJHL with the Thunder Bay Bearcats.
He notched 52 points in 29 games with the Predators before adding another 61 points in 27 games with Thunder Bay. Miller added nine points in 10 SIJHL playoff games.
“I’ve been in contact with them for a couple years now since playing at Port Hope,” Miller said of the college. “I was supposed to go last year but I wanted to finish my junior career and then go this year.
“I have another four years to try to get one [a championship], so that’s a positive thing,” Miller stressed.
The torch will officially be passed by fellow Fort Frances native A.J. Tucker, who spent four seasons with the Saints before graduating last spring.
Tucker was named to the RBK Men’s Hockey Division III All-American West Region second team last season. He finished his career 14th on the school’s all-time scoring list with 119 points.
“I went down to Duluth last year to visit for a few days and that’s who I stayed with,” Sinclair said of Tucker. “I’ve talked to him a lot. He really liked it and had nothing but good things to say about it.”
Camp doesn’t officially break until mid-October, but the players organize informal practices right when school begins on Sept. 8.
“We go down Sept. 1 for orientation, which is a week-long thing for international students, and then hockey starts on the 8th,” Sinclair noted.
“It’s just captains’ practice for the first month-and-a-half because the coaches aren’t allowed on the ice until Oct. 15 I believe,” Sinclair continued. “The captains run the practice and dry-land [training] and things like that to keep everyone in shape.”
The two locals will actually be boarding together off the ice, and stressed the educational aspect off the ice will be important as well.
“I’m enrolled in general education with some first-year education courses,” Miller explained. “It’s a lot of schoolwork being one of the top schools in Minnesota, so I’m excited for that as well.”
“I’m taking kinesiology, four-year program, and I want to be a Phys Ed teacher,” Sinclair added.
The Saints had one of their most successful campaigns ever a year ago—qualifying for the NCAA Division III tournament before a loss to Wisconsin-Stout in the quarterfinals ousted them from contention.
“They lost seven forwards and 10 [players] in total, but they don’t want to take this year as a rebuilding year,” Sinclair noted. “They want to go for it again, and I’m just glad to be a part of that.”
The two are offensive-minded players who have produced on the scoresheet wherever they’ve played—so their respective roles will likely be geared towards offensive output.
“When I talked to him [head coach Mark Wick], he talked about having me up on the top line and hopefully I can get some points for them and get some wins for the team,” Miller noted.
“They did a lot of recruiting this year, so it’s just a wait-and-see thing to find out where everyone fits in and go from there,” Sinclair added.
The two have been used to a 50-plus game schedule in junior ‘A’ hockey the last number of seasons, and will have to adjust to a lighter schedule that features less than 30 games from October to March.
“It’s going to be a lot different,” Sinclair agreed. “There’s no taking nights off and every game means something.
“It’s not like you are going to Sioux Lookout and you can maybe take a night off; you have to come play your best each time out,” Sinclair added. “It makes it more intense and you’ll want it that much more.”
Sinclair said he’s looking forward to playing in front of big crowds at Mars Lakeview Arena.
“From what I’ve heard from the players and coaches, they usually fill their rink [1,000-1,200] and half of that is school attendance, so I guess it’s just a really good atmosphere and I’m looking forward to it,” Sinclair enthused.
That list of area talent playing in Minnesota college hockey includes Emo native Cody Mosbeck. Mosbeck and his Gustavus Adolphus Gusties’ teammates went all the way to the NCAA Division III “Frozen Four” last season before losing to Newman College.
Meanwhile, recent Fort High graduate Mitch Cain expects to attend Bemidji State University for hockey in 2010-11, joining Shattuck St. Mary’s prep school senior Joe Basaraba, who plans to attend the University of Minnesota-Duluth after completing his senior year of high school this winter.