Last week we thought that Broten Sabo’s shining moment was going to be winning Bauer’s NAHL Central Division First Star of the Week. But instead the Rosemount, MN native was able to top that accolade when he announced a life-altering decision, making his commitment to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks to play Division I hockey.
Fairbanks, also referred to as just the Alaska Nanooks, is one of six men’s Division I hockey programs that is independent of conference affiliation, alongside Alaska Anchorage, Arizona State, Lindenwood, Long Island University and Stonehill. But the lack of a conference not only doesn’t bother Sabo, he even sees some upsides to it. “They’re independent so they kind of play whoever they want. That’s cool that they get to set their own schedule and opponents,” points out Sabo. Having an independent status is new to the program; they joined the CCHA as a full member in 1995 and played there until 2013 when they and the rest of the CCHA members joined the WCHA. Fairbanks had no season in 2020-21 due to health concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic and are in their third season as an independent.
“I have some familiarity with the staff there, they do a good job. Their coaches have done a really good job with that program the last few years for sure,” says St. Cloud Norsemen Head Coach Corey Millen. “They’re moving in the right direction, it’s a big surface. It’s going tobe a great opportunity and a good situation for Broten to hopefully get some ice and make an impact, and that’s important for these kids.” The surface Millen refers to is that unlike the standard NHL sized-rink that most college teams play on of 200 x 85 feet, the Carlson Center holds an Olympic sized sheet of ice at 200 x 100 feet.
Alaska’s coaching staff is Head Coach Erik Largen, Associate Head Coach Chris Brown and Assistant Coach Lenny Hofmann. Like Millen, Sabo is also a fan of the coaching staff and it’s a big reason he wants to be a Nanook. “I liked all the coaches when I went there, the style of play, they like how I play,” confides Sabo. “It just seemed like a good fit overall.” In 2019-20, the last season before Alaska took the season off the Nanooks went 16-15-5 and in the two years since they’ve been back they posted records of 14-18-2 and 9-7-2, their current record headed into the holiday break.
Sabo (5-9-14) is currently 4th on the team in points, tied for 4th in assists and tied for 5th in goals despite missing seven games due to injury while 3rd on the team in points per game at 0.74 ppg. He’s also been red hot as of late as he has 13 points (5-18-13) in his last 14 games.
“He’s obviously healthy now and any time you’re out for a significant amount of time it takes some time for you to get back to 100%. I think he’s got a little bit of time under his belt with practice and getting touches so his game is coming along,” compliments Millen. “I have high expectations for him and I expect that to get even better. I lean on him quite a bit to be good in all areas of the game. He’s grown and getting better and I hope that continues.”
Sabo knows what the perception of the state of Alaska is but was pleasantly surprised that he enjoyed the city and state more than he anticipated. “I went there a couple weeks ago, it was a lot better than I expected,” admits Sabo. “Alaska; you just think it’s all just cold and snow but it was really cool down there. Great facilities, a great program.”
Sabo and the Norsemen are off this weekend for the holidays but return to action Friday, December 30th in Aberdeen vs. the Aberdeen Wings. The game can be watched online at hockeytv.com. The next home game for the Norsemen is Saturday, January 14th and tickets can be found at: tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.