BISMARCK, N.D. — Layne Sedevie thinks he is fortunate.
In his 11th season as a coach in juniors for the Bismarck Bobcats in the Tier II North American Hockey League, he has three players who have committed to play for St. Cloud State on this season's roster.
"They're a top 10 school in the country, so it's pretty dang special for us to have three of them on our roster," said Sedevie, who has been the team's head coach and general manager since 2015. "(SCSU's coaching staff) have definitely been keeping tabs on them. It's been a good working relationship. They've been supportive and that's all you really can really ask for.
"The head (coach Brett Larson) changed from (assistant at) Duluth to St. Cloud and I had a pretty good relationship with him. He recruited Hunter Shepard from me," Sedevie said of the former two-time All-American goalie at Minnesota Duluth.
Due to a number of circumstances, it is a good thing that Sedevie has a good relationship with Larson and his staff. Forwards Ben Troumbly and Grant Ahcan and defenseman Chase Beacom are all playing for the Bobcats this season.
Bismarck (15-10-1-3-1) plays the St. Cloud Norsemen (7-15-0-0-2) in a home-and-home series Friday and Saturday. On Friday, the teams play at 7:15 p.m. at the VFW Sports Center in Bismarck. On Saturday, they play at 7 p.m. at the Municipal Athletic Complex.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, several junior hockey leagues either delayed or cancelled their regular seasons. And with a number of NCAA Division I programs also shutting down this season, it created a glut of talent for junior teams that are playing to choose from.
"Probably a lot of coaches would agree with me when I say that I hope it doesn't happen again," said Sedevie, a former Bemidji State goalie. "It's not fun for the coaches who have to cut kids. It's not fun for the kids that don't have places to play, who (normally) would have places to play.
"On a daily basis in a normal year, you probably get a couple kids a week" getting in touch with you, Sedevie said. "This year, you probably have 15-20 agents calling you a week and 30-40 kids emailing you per week. You really feel for the kids who don't have an opportunity to play hockey this year."
The three St. Cloud State recruits that the Bobcats have on their roster all have ties with the Cedar Rapids Roughriders of the Tier I United States Hockey League. Ahcan, Beacom and Troumbly are all draft picks of the Roughriders and all three were in Cedar Rapids for preseason camp. Ahcan and Troumbly both made the 30-player roster and Troumbly ended up getting cut.
But after an August storm caused severe damage to ImOn Ice Arena in Cedar Rapids, the Roughriders decided to opt out of playing during the 2020-21 season. Players from the Roughriders and Madison Capitols rosters went through a USHL dispersal draft for this season. Madison also opted out of playing this season because of public health restrictions in Dane County due to the pandemic.
Both of those teams retain the rights of the players who have junior eligibility remaining for next season.
Ahcan, an 18-year-old and former Burnsville High School standout, was one of the players picked in the dispersal draft with the Chicago Steel getting his rights.
"I went there and I knew some of the Minnesota guys there and it was a good time," he said. "But they had a little tougher squad to make and it was harder coming in late, too. But I knew if I didn't make it, I'd have a good spot to come back to in Bismarck."
Ahcan knew Niko Kapetanovic, Bismarck's director of scouting and an assistant coach at St. Thomas Academy.
"We just decided that this was the best place for me to come to," said Ahcan, who had 26 points in 21 games and helped lead Burnsville to the Section 3AA championship game last season. "Starting in the USHL, there were a lot of guys who were staying back who probably should have been going into college.
"It was a big transition from high school. The speed is a lot better, everyone has a harder shot and it's harder and everything is quicker. You've got to get in your first game, get your butterflies out and figure out what your role is on a team. I didn't really know what to expect. I watched my brothers play. I think it's been a good transition so far."
Ahcan's oldest brother, Jack, was a two-time All-American on defense for St. Cloud State and is playing this season in the American Hockey League for the Providence Bruins. Jack and Roman Ahcan both played for Cedar Rapids before playing in college. Roman is a junior forward at Wisconsin.
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At 5-foot-10, Grant is the tallest of the three brothers, but listed at 150 pounds, he is the lightest of the three. His size, though, does not dictate the way he plays.
"He competes, that's for sure," Sedevie said. "He's a little bit of a different breed coming out of the state of Minnesota. You think of the cliches of a northern (Minnesota) kid from up on the (Iron) Range.
"He's a competitor. He's not afraid to stick up for his teammates. He's not afraid to be the (lead forechecker). He plays the game the right way. He's got a little bit of everything. He's got really good hands and he scored highlight-type goals for Burnsville almost every night. His brain is good. He's not a perimeter guy. He likes the interior and the hard areas, which is what you like as a coach."
After not picking up a goal or an assist and being a minus-2 in his first four games, Ahcan has six goals, four assists, 10 penalty minutes and is a plus-3 in his last 17 games.
Ahcan is a wing on a line with wing Jack Conroy, an Air Force Academy commit, and Troumbly at center.
"We find each other a lot, get to the open areas and generate a lot of offense," Troumbly said.
Unlike Achan, Troumbly was not selected in the dispersal draft. But he had been taken by Bismarck in the first round of the NAHL Supplemental Draft in May.
"After talking to coaches at St. Cloud, we all thought it was best for me to come to Bismarck," he said. "I would play a little bit more and get more time to adjust.
"It's definitely a big jump from high school. Guys are a lot stronger, a lot faster and everything is a lot quicker. Your mistakes definitely get exposed. It's more of a team game and you've got to rely more on your teammates and move the puck and make quick decisions.
"I'm trying to get faster and more explosive and stronger."
Troumbly played last season for Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin and led the Raiders in goals (18), assists (31) and points (49) in 25 games and helped them reach the Section 7A semifinals. As a junior, he was second on the team in goals (24), assists (22) and points (46) in 31 games and helped the Raiders reach the Class A championship game.
This season, he has four goals, seven assists, 20 penalty minutes and is a plus-1 in 26 games.
"I think Ben started out well, then went through a little bit of a rough patch and now he's starting to pick up where he started," Sedevie said. "It's a grind when you play junior hockey and we're going to play 56 games this year. Benny's not a big kid (5-foot-7, 150 pounds), but he wants to play big and throw his weight around.
"Benny's got a great shot and really good hockey sense and a really good stick. He's crafty. He's got a sneaky good shot. He can shoot it and he can pick his spots."
At 17, Beacom is one of the younger players on the Bismarck roster. Beacom opted to play junior hockey this season rather than return for his senior season at Bloomington Kennedy High School. Last season, he led Kennedy in assists (18) and had 21 points in 20 games.
For the Bobcats, he has three points, 12 penalty minutes and is a plus-6 in 25 games.
"I've been really enjoying it," he said. "At first, it was a little bit different with moving away from home.
"It was a new experience and I had to adjust, but I'm getting a little more comfortable and I enjoy all the guys here."
In his last five games, Beacom has a goal, an assist and is a plus-9.
"He's been our most improved player throughout the year," Sedevie said. "He's really talented with the puck, but he's not a big guy (5-8, 160) and you've got to learn how to defend, too.
"He's an elite skater and he's got a really good brain. He's a really good, puck-moving defenseman. He's going to have to develop some as a young man and I think it will all come together for him. He's got the tools to be special."
Ahcan, Troumbly and Beacom are enjoying the chance to get to know one another as junior teammates and get some good natured ribbing about being future college teammates from the other Bobcats.
"It's awesome," Ahcan said. "A lot of guys are chirping us, giving us crap. But I think it's special and it will be good coming in (to college) knowing a few guys and that we have that chemistry going."
Eighteen of the 28 players on the Bismarck roster are committed to Division I rosters.
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3 former CHS players in the series
There will be three former St. Cloud Cathedral players in the Bismarck vs. St. Cloud series.
Defenseman Jon Bell is tied for the Bismarck lead in plus/minus (plus-8) and has five assists, six points and 30 penalty minutes.
Former Crusaders forwards Nate Warner and Blake Perbix are playing for the Norsemen. Warner, who is a University of Minnesota commit, has a goal and is a minus-1 in three games. Perbix, a Northern Michigan commit, leads the team in assists (8), is tied for the team lead in points (9), has four penalty minutes and is a minus-8 in 18 games.