ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Things have finally calmed down for Asa Kinnear and he is back playing hockey, which is good news for the St. Cloud State men's hockey recruit.

Kinnear, who is beginning his third season of junior hockey, had to sit out for two stints of last season because of concussions while he was a member of the Tri-City Storm in the United States Hockey League. Then the end of the season got cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic.

During the offseason, Kinnear had plans to play for the Madison Capitols of the USHL. Then the Capitols, who received Kinnear in a trade, announced in September they would not be playing for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Kinnear has found a place to play, though, and played both games at center last weekend for the St. Cloud Norsemen of the North American Hockey League. The Norsemen opened the season with two road losses to the Aberdeen Wings, who are the defending Central Division champions.

"I really like the group of guys and coaches, but I think we got off to a little rough start," Kinnear said. "Aberdeen is a very good team, but I think we need more time practicing together and getting to know each other before we're going to be really good. I think we're going to be really good. It's just going to take some time to figure each other out."

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Kinnear did not have a point in the two games for the Norsemen, who had one goal in the series, but he played on both a power-play and penalty kill unit.

"It was nice to get back out there for the power play and the penalty kill," Kinnear said. "Obviously, there we have a lot of work to do and where we want to be in certain situations.

"I really do like penalty killing. In the past few years, I've learned to penalty kill effectively. I enjoy it and I think it's fun to be able to shut other teams down and get energy for the team."

St. Cloud (0-2-0-0) returns to game action at 7:35 p.m. Oct. 23 when it plays at Minot (1-0-0-1).

St. Cloud Norsemen. (Courtesy of NAHL)
St. Cloud Norsemen. (Courtesy of NAHL)

Getting through last season

Kinnear, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, played the last two seasons with Tri-City and had five goals, 13 points, 20 penalty minutes and was a minus-1 in 61 regular season games for the Storm in 2018-19.

Last season, he had three assists, four penalty minutes and was a minus-6 in 21 games. He played in the team's first eight games last season into October, suffered a concussion and was out for about a month. Kinnear returned for one game and then missed about another month after suffering a second concussion.

"It was tough, not being able to do anything," he said. "I was able to hang out with teammates, which was huge, and my family was around for part of the time and that helped, too."

Kinnear is from Anchorage, Alaska, and verbally committed to play for St. Cloud State as a 16-year-old. He played for the Alaska Oilers 16-and-under AAA team that season and ended it by playing two games for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the NAHL.

Believe it or not, he ended up playing for the Norsemen because of a connection that was made in Alaska. St. Cloud head coach Corey Millen coached the NAHL's Alaska Avalanche in 2011-12. The Avalanche, who have since relocated to Johnstown, Pa., played their home games in Wasilla, Alaska, about an hour north and west of Anchorage.

"I was familiar with him," said Millen, who was also involved in youth hockey at the time. "He's always been a high end (player), one of the better players in the state of Alaska in his age group.

"He got committed (to SCSU) and was kind of a fast tracker. He went to Tri-City for a couple years. He was really young to be on such a good team and I was in Des Moines," Millen said of the USHL's Buccaneers, who he was an assistant coach for in 2018-19. "He probably didn't get the (puck) touches and the ice opportunity that he would have liked."

Millen was hired to be the St. Cloud head coach in April and started working on putting a roster together.

"I have a little bit of a connection and I know people who know him," Millen said of Kinnear. "I had spoken to him all summer long about the thoughts he might have.

"It's always nice to have experience and the USHL is an elite league. One of the things for kids who have played in the USHL and then come our way is there's this false sense of security that it's going to be easier. I think that Asa learned last weekend that that's not always true."

Adjustments

Kinnear said that one of the things that he appreciates about Millen is his honesty and admits that he is going through an adjustment period with his new team.

"I definitely wasn't used to it right away and it's probably going to take a few games more to get adjusted to the speed, but I think that's how it is for a lot of guys because we have a really young team," he said. "I wouldn't say there's a huge difference (USHL to NAHL). Obviously, the USHL is more skilled.

"One thing I've noticed is that in the NAHL, there's a lot of bigger guys who are trying to hit you and hurt you," he said of the league, which has an older average age than the USHL. "That's not really the case in the USHL ... That will take a few more games to get used to as well."

Millen sounds confident that Kinnear will be able to make the adjustments and become a big contributor this season.

"He's got a good motor, he works hard and has a good work ethic," Millen said. "He's solid and has got a good 200-foot game.

"He's only been here a short time and it's going to take a while for him to get his legs under him. It takes time, but we hope he has a real solid influence on our young group. He skates and moves well."

As for his timeline to college hockey, Kinnear is not locked into a date. If he does not join St. Cloud State after this season, he has one more year of junior eligibility left.

When he gets to college, he said he is leaning toward majoring in kinesiology. Kinnear is one of two St. Cloud State recruits on the Norsemen roster this season. John Opilka, an 18-year-old defenseman from Effingham, Ill., is also playing for St. Cloud, though he did not play against Aberdeen.



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