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Tale of a transfer: Alex Frye reflects on joining Northern Michigan University Wildcats hockey team from Alaska-Anchorage

Northern Michigan University’s Alex Frye, left center, tries to corral the puck at center ice as teammate Vincent de Mey, right, and Lake Superior State’s Miroslav Mucha, second from right, and Hampus Eriksson, left, look on during a game Jan. 9 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Shannon Stieg)

“I just want to play, you know. That’s what every hockey player wants to do, is play.” — Alex Frye, NMU hockey forward, who transferred from Alaska-Anchorage last fall after the Seawolves dropped their program

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MARQUETTE — Imagine you have just started your college hockey career and finished your freshman season on a high note, leading your team in goals.

Then imagine your university decides to end its program for the next season and you’re left without a team the next season.

That’s the situation Northern Michigan University forward Alex Frye found himself in back in 2020.

Northern Michigan University's Alex Frye, center, tries to get the puck around Alabama-Huntsville's Conor Witherspoon, left, and Lucas Bahn during a game Feb. 17 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Shannon Stieg)

The Oklahoma-born Frye began his collegiate career playing for then-fellow WCHA program Alaska-Anchorage. He had just come off a solid first season, where he finished with nine goals and 14 points.

However, UAA announced in August that due to budget cuts, the 2020-21 season would be the Seawolves’ last as a program. So it appeared as if Frye would have one more year in Alaska before having to find a new place to play.

Then due to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the school announced in November that the Seawolves would not be participate even in that season, thus officially ending the program. Now, Frye and his teammates were left with no place to play.

“It was very difficult because I was planning on spending my whole four years of college there and then they said they were going to cancel the team because of funding and then we didn’t get to compete because of COVID,” he said. “I just kind of got put in a tough spot where I had to transfer midway through the year.”

This was heartbreaking for Frye as he loved his time in Alaska and enjoyed the adventure of being in the Last Frontier.

“I was recruited by the coaches,” he said. “They showed me a bunch of cool pictures and stuff and I’d never even been to Alaska before. I just kind of made a commitment and I was like ‘Yeah, this could be a cool place to be.’ And it’s (NCAA) Division I hockey, so I just kind of dove right in there and took a chance. I loved it actually. It was great.”

As disappointing as it was to leave Alaska, Frye was one of the lucky ones on the team. He found a spot on the Wildcats’ roster last fall, and after sitting out the first four games, he made his first appearance Jan. 2 against Minnesota State-Mankato, then scored his first points and first goal the following weekend against Lake Superior State.

Sometimes joining a new program can be difficult, but Frye said it the transition was pretty smooth.

There even was a funny moment.

“It’s a new experience, I’ve never done that before,” Frye said. “It was also kind of weird. I transferred to a team where I had been playing against the guys the previous year.”

He spoke of a photo taken from his year at Alaska-Anchorage in a game against the Wildcats.

“There was no rivalry, but there was a funny picture of, I was taking a faceoff against (NMU captain Joe) Nardi and it was like me kneeing him in the head or something like that at the faceoff. It was pretty funny.”

The fact that he got to play was a bit of relief for Frye as it looked like there was a possibility that NMU might not have a season either.

“The process of me talking to the coach (Grant Potulny) and getting recruited, it kind of got to one point where he was like ‘We’re probably going to play here. We’re going to play and if you come, you’ll start playing right here right when you transfer.’

“So it was very convincing. I just want to play, you know. That’s what every hockey player wants to do, is play.”

Frye was also a key player in the postseason, scoring a goal in a WCHA first-round series against Bowling Green State and scoring the game-winning tally against Mankato in the semifinals. By the end of the year, he had five goals and 11 points.

“Obviously, it was just a weird start, but as the season progressed further and further, I got more comfortable with the guys and everything,” he said. “I feel my strongest game was toward the end of the season. So hopefully, I can kind of translate that into this next upcoming year here.”

Frye still has fond memories of Anchorage and said he even went back to Alaska before the season started to hunt moose with two former teammates. However, he’s now focused on being a Wildcat and said coming one game short of making the NCAA Tournament has given him a little more motivation this fall. He’s also looking forward to seeing what a packed house in the Berry Events Center looks like again.

“Being at Anchorage, we didn’t have a chance of making it to the championship or anything really,” Frye said after his UAA team lost to Mankato in the first round. “Now, once I kind of had a sniff of that championship and we lost it like that, it kind of slipped through our fingers, it makes me want it even more. It makes me hungry in a way.

“Even though with COVID and stuff, and I barely got a little touch of fans at the end of the year, I’m still really excited to kind of get some of the fans in the building and get more of an exciting atmosphere going on in the building.

“I remember playing there last year with Anchorage. You guys had a good crowd going. It was a lot of fun to play in that building and I can’t wait to be on the right side of that.”

Frye describes himself as a guy who “puts his nose to the grindstone and just keeps on going.” That attitude has helped him get from Anchorage to Marquette, and now that bumpy road seems to be finally smoothing out for him.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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