Northern Michigan’s rise to the WCHA’s prime real estate this season corresponded with some notable changes, including one who grew up in Orange County and played for the Anaheim Jr. Ducks.
Junior forward Troy Loggins has been on a tear this season as the Wildcats have ascended from eighth place to take up residency at or near the top of the league standings.
Entering college hockey’s final month of the regular season, Loggins, who is from Huntington Beach, had 34 points (including 16 goals) in 32 games. The point total is 10th nationally and tops among California products. And Loggins has saved his best hockey for the home stretch, picking up points in 12 of the past 13 games leading into the weekend of Feb. 9-10.
The biggest factor for Loggins is that he’s finally healthy after suffering a devastating knee injury during his freshman season, tearing an ACL and MCL in a game at Alabama-Huntsville just 16 games into his college career.
Loggins, who played for the Jr. Ducks’ Midget 18U AAA team that reached the North American Prospects Hockey League playoffs in 2012-13, played in 38 games as sophomore for NMU, but said he never felt right.
“Between the learning curve for college hockey, getting back into playing shape and trying to regain my confidence, it wasn’t easy,” he said.
Another change came when the Wildcats hired longtime Minnesota assistant Grant Potulny as their head coach. Potulny, who has been a regular attendee and speaker at the various college hockey camps The Rinks – Anaheim has hosted to over the years, was well aware of what he was getting in Loggins.
“Troy is the perfect hockey player for the way we want to play,” Potulny said of the up-tempo, offense-centric style he favors. “He has the skill set, he can skate well, and he has a good stick and a good brain. We want to push the pace.
“I was familiar with him from his days in junior (with Sioux Falls of the USHL) and in California, but what I didn’t know was how competitive he is. He works hard every day in practice and every day in the weight room., and he’s seeing success because of it.”
Seeds for Loggins’ emergence were planted this past summer, when player and coach met after Potulny’s hiring and discussed expectations and opportunities.
“He’s made a big commitment to his training, and it shows,” Potulny said.
Part of Loggins’ training always includes one of his favorite pastimes, inline hockey at The Rinks’ Huntington Beach and Irvine facilities.
“That’s how I started, and that definitely built most of my skills and ability to make plays,” Loggins said. “It gets my confidence up a bit more. There are a lot of 4-on-4s and 3-on-3 overtime in the WCHA so it’s helped in that way, too.”
The inline influence is obvious to his coach, who deems it a positive.
“Troy has great spatial awareness,” Potulny said. “Any young player spending time handling a puck will benefit, then add in the roller element where you have to create time and space and it helps you.
Loggins, whose 34 points are four away from doubling his first two seasons’ worth in Marquette, Mich., came to Northern Michigan fresh off an MVP performance Clark Cup championship in 2015. He tore up the USHL playoffs with 16 points, including 10 goals, in 12 games.
Dallas Steward, then a Stampede assistant coach and now an assistant at Michigan Tech, raved about Loggins’ play and preparation at the time.
“He was committed to being a first-class teammate and player for a championship team,” Steward said. “He was one of our most improved players.
“His heart and compete level is at the highest measurement level, and the Anaheim Jr. Ducks played a significant role in developing him.”
That upward development track has continued to the point Loggins has developed into a player Potulny trusts in any situation.
“He plays as many minutes as he can handle,” Potulny said. “He’s on our first power play, our first penalty kill and 4-on-4s. I play him when we’re up a goal and down a goal.
“I have to manage his ice time because I don’t want to wear him out.”
That could be a hazard with a 5-foot-9, 160-pound player but so far it hasn’t been. In fact, Loggins is one of the better hitters on his team.
“He packs a lot of pop,” Potulny said. “He has as much functional strength as anyone on our team. His timing on delivering blows and his force at impact is excellent.”
It’s one more reason why after two uneven seasons, Loggins has been a hit for a Wildcats team with a good shot at reaching the NCAA Tournament in late March.
- Chris Bayee