Tucker still hoping for NCAA berth

Mitch Calvert

Fort Frances native A.J. Tucker has received plenty of accolades in his senior year as a member of the St. Scholastica Saints hockey team in Duluth, but the hardware he most craves is still within his grasp.
The Saints bowed out of the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs with a 3-2 semi-final loss to the University of Wisconsin-Stout on Saturday, but a NCAA Division III tournament spot still may be in the cards—if they get some help on the out-of-town scoreboard.
“We still have a chance,” Tucker noted. “We find out Sunday if we get an automatic bid into the tournament.
“We’re kinda waiting around to see what happens as it depends on what goes on out east,” he added. “There’s a ranking system and all the teams are ranked, so if the main teams win out east, we should get an automatic bid [based on our rank].
“But it’s a pretty complicated system and I don’t really understand it too much,” Tucker admitted.
The Saints swept Wisconsin-River Falls by identical 2-0 scores in the best-of-three quarter-finals before being stopped by a Wisconsin-Stout team riding a 12-game unbeaten streak into the one-game elimination semi-final.
Just last week, Tucker was named to the all-conference team after tying for third in the league with 16 goals and 31 points this past season. In NCHA-sanctioned games, Tucker led the conference with 22 points and was tied for second in each individual category with 11 goals and 11 assists.
The 25-year-old also moved into 14th place on the Saints’ all-time scoring list with 119 points during his four-year college career.
“I have another year of school left, but I’m not sure if I’m going to come back here or do it online, or what’s going to happen,” Tucker said.
Tucker added this was the best team assembled in his four years at St. Scholastica—and credited part of his career year to the play of his linemates.
“We’ve never accomplished what we’ve been able to do this year,” Tucker lauded. “I’m playing with a guy I live with, Joey Martini, who’s been here all four years with me, and we have a good freshman in from Manitoba we play with, Jeremy Dawes [brother of New York Rangers’ forward Nigel Dawes], who’s a good player.”
Tucker spent two seasons with the Waywayseecappo Wolverines of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League before going the college route, including an 82-point season in his final year there.
Former Wolverines’ teammates Shane Auger and Kyle Luschinski both made the move to St. Scholastica along with him.
“It’s definitely a good level of play, a step up from junior with a lot of good players, and it was a lot better than I first expected when I came here for school,” said Tucker, who is enrolled in Ojibway education and hopes to be an elementary teacher some day.
“It’s a great school,” he enthused. “People get jobs out of it right away and it’s a good place to go, for sure.”
The Saints have an experienced squad with 10 veterans, including Tucker, on the roster, and that veteran savvy has propelled the team to a 20-6-2 record overall.
“It’s kind of an older team and there’s lots of leadership, which is good,” Tucker noted.
So besides that veteran advantage, what other tricks have the Saints had up their sleeves to get to this point? As their website team photos prove, a little facial-hair advantage.
“Yeah, we had a little team ritual for the playoffs. Everyone was growing out moustaches to make a run for it,” Tucker laughed. “We were to let it grow as long as we went, but it came to an end quicker than we expected.
“We’ll find out on Sunday if it’s time to shave or not yet, though,” he added.