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Frey having a breakout season in his first year of junior hockey

Former Wildcat Trent Frey is making quite an impression in his first year of junior hockey. Frey currently leads the North American Hockey League (NAHL) with 19 goals while playing for the Springfield (Ill.) Junior Blues. The NAHL is the only Tier II Junior A league in the country. Bob Burrows photo

Trent Frey never saw it coming.

One night after his line accounted for four of his Springfield (Ill.) Jr. Blues team's six goals in a win at Wichita Falls, Texas, Frey received a slapshot-style introduction to junior hockey from one of Wichita Falls' enforcers.

"I was jumped by one of their guys right at the opening faceoff," he said. "He was like 6-4 and 230 pounds, and before I knew it my jersey was over my head and the gloves were off. He only got one good shot in though, before we fell. That was my rude awakening to junior hockey. I got kicked out five seconds into the game, and all I was doing was defending myself. But I was lucky I only got hit once."

Frey's fighting may never get him noticed in hockey circles. But his goal-scoring ability is certainly opening some eyes in his first season in the North American Hockey League (NAHL), the only Tier II Junior A league in the country.

Great start

Through 29 games, Frey leads the NAHL in goals scored with 19. He's also dished out seven assists for a total of 26 points, third best on his team. He started his rookie season as a fourth-liner but has quickly worked his way onto Springfield's first unit.

"I got lucky and I got the opportunity to play with great skaters," he said.

Frey was one of the most prolific scorers in River Falls High School history. He graduated last spring after compiling 100 career goals and 152 career points. He was a three-time All-Big Rivers Conference selection and a first-team All-State pick his senior season when he led the Wildcats to within one game of a berth in the state tournament.

Frey signed a tender with the NAHL's Springfield Jr. Blues last spring. He hopes to use the opportunity as a stepping stone to a Division I college program.

"I'm eligible to play one more year of juniors, after that I'll be too old," he explained. "I wouldn't mind playing another year if I don't get a good offer, but if I got the right offer, I'd jump at it and start playing college. I'd like to play close to home. My ultimate dream would be to play for the Badgers, like any Wisconsin kid. But any Division I school would be great."

Frey has already been contacted by, and visited, Bentley College, a Division I school in Waltham, Mass., near Boston.

"It just wasn't right for me," he said. "It's a solid hockey program but it just didn't seem right. It was my first offer, and everyone associated with the team said usually the first offer isn't the best offer."

That offer may still be out there. So far this season, Frey's coach in Springfield has been contacted by Minnesota State University-Mankato, Bemidji State University and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, among others.

New home

Frey is already working on preparing for college. He took one class at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield in the fall and hopes to get a part-time job during the second half of the season. He stays with a host family in town, and said so far his first year away from home has been enjoyable.

"I was spoiled growing up, so now doing my own laundry and dishes, that's an adjustment," he said. "But the family I live with is really neat. They have one son who is a sophomore in high school who plays hockey, and I live with another kid from the team from Stoughton, Wisconsin, (Kevin O'Donnell). I couldn't ask for a better host family. This is their ninth year doing it. If I go back next year, I definitely want to live with them."

He said Springfield is bigger than River Falls, with a population estimated around 111,000, but is still had a small-town feel.

"The coach said that's a god thing and a bad thing because everybody knows who you are," he said. "We're a pretty big thing down in Springfield. We average just under 1,000 fans. The most we had was 1,200, and that was against our rival St. Louis.

All-around athlete

Frey, the son of Tim and Kerrin of River Falls, has a younger sister, Tara, a sophomore at River Falls High School and a member of the St. Croix Valley Fusion girls co-op hockey team.

Frey himself was a three-sport star at River Falls, earning all-conference honors in baseball and football as well as hockey. He said hockey was always his first love, but is glad he had the chance to play all three sports as a Wildcat.

"I don't regret playing three sports. I had a great time," he said. "Looking back, it was the right decision."

He said he was never tempted to specialize in just one sport.

"Kids think they have to leave early and move to a prep school to be noticed," he said about some in the hockey world. "But I think you should stay in high school, and if you're good enough they'll find you. Hopefully, if kids stay here and keep developing the program, the program will keep improving and more people will be watching. So it's good for both the player and the school. It turned out OK for me. I loved the experiences in high school; playing in front of your classmates and beating Hudson in the playoffs.

"I'll never forget that game against Hudson last year in the playoffs," he added. "Just like beating Hudson in football for the Little Brown Jug. It's something I'll carry with me the rest of my life. I'm glad I didn't miss out on that."

As for junior hockey, he said he's glad he's not missing out on it either.

"Juniors is different from what I thought, but everything I want it to be," he said. "I'm going to enjoy it while I can."