ISANTI, MINNESOTA – When he gets older, Brighton High School alum Tyler Samson will have some stories to tell about the early stages of his hockey career.
There was the pandemic that, among other things, caused at least one game to be postponed shortly after a six-hour bus trip to the rink.
Then there was a bus fire that cost him all of his hockey sticks before his participation in a showcase game before Christmas 2021.
Then there was the draft for the North American 3 Hockey League, a junior ice hockey league with teams in Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. (Samson wound up in Ulm, Minnesota).
Then there was his trade from the Hudson, Wisconsin, Havoc to the Rum River Mallards in Isanti, Minnesota, a swap he heard about after Mass.
So when he says he’s back to a normal routine -- and away from COVID -- he means it.
“Fans are back in the arenas, I can show up to the rink whenever I want to, and I don't have to wear a mask anymore inside of the arenas,” Samson said. “It feels good to have my normal routine back and to have no more worries and distractions.”
The draft and the trade
The North American 3 Hockey League draft was April 20, and it was online. Samson said the league is “high-skilled” for players to move up to play Tier 2 Junior Hockey in either the NA3HL or the National Collegiate Development Conference. Another option is to move up to NCAA Division II or II level hockey. There’s no affiliation with the NHL, and Samson wasn’t in college at the time.
“There were a couple of commentators that were commenting on the draft,” Samson said. “I was at work at the time, I had my airpods in, listening to the draft, and what the commentators had to say.”
The draft paused at the beginning, so Samson refreshed the screen.
“I saw my name at sixth (the sixth pick) overall. I was shocked, surprised, and happy all at the same time,” Samson said.
The New Ulm Steel n Ulm, Minneota, selected him. Samson hasn’t had any experience with that team yet. He went to the Hudson Havoc before the team traded him to the Rum River Mallards. Both squads are tier 3 junior level hockey teams in the United States Premier Hockey League.
“I got traded last season around the trade deadline,” Samson said. “It was a Sunday night when it was announced. I remember that because I was in church at the time when it happened. I got out of Mass when I saw a missed call on my phone. It was from my coach.
“He told me that he had a trade on the table and asked me if it was something that I was interested in, I told him I was, and it got finalized and sent to the league. I had to get home and start packing to get ready to move in a couple of days.
“After the trade, I had to play my old team, the Hudson Havoc, twice before the season ended,” Samson added. “The experience with the Rum River Mallards was a great experience. The rink and the locker room were incredible. I also had a lounge where I would eat lunch, watch film and do homework on a daily basis. I also had the ice for most of the day. Some days, I would spend up to four hours practicing and training. My teammates and coaching staff were also amazing. They were very professional, and they were a great group of guys.”
Awards and hazards
One of the commentators for the USPHL, Dan Kmiechick, named Samson as the player of one of the recent games.
“Before I got to Rum River, my team won a challenge that would bring Dan K to my home rink and have him comment on my last game of the regular season nationally,” Samson said. “The last game of the regular season, we won 3-2 in overtime. I assisted on the game-winning goal, as well as had a goal and assist in regular time. After the game, Dan K came down to the ice and interviewed me and the other two stars of the game, which was a super- cool experience”
Samson also had to replace a lot of his equipment around Christmas 2021.
“In a showcase around Christmas, my bus caught on fire, which resulted in the game that day getting postponed, and I lost all my sticks in the fire,” Samson said. “I had to buy a new one in Chicago. When I got traded to Rum River, I had a huge bus breakdown, which also resulted in a four-hour bus trip to turn into a 22-hour bus trip. The last trip after my team got eliminated, the same bus broke down again. I had to drive four hours in a rented U-Haul.”
Still and all, Samson hasn’t changed his goal, nor has he changed his love for the game.
“The NHL is the end goal for me and would be super cool,” he said. “There are some players in the NHL that have taken the progression that I am on right now. But this path isn't too normal for NHL players.
“I definitely do get as much joy playing hockey as I did as a kid,” he concluded. “This is the best sport in the world and is fun every time I step out on the ice. God gave me a gift to play hockey, and I want to play as long as I can.”
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