Defenseman Jack Ahcan, a standout for the Providence Bruins through nine games, is one of Boston’s top prospects. An All-American at St. Cloud State, he doesn’t have prototypical NHL size, but his skating, hockey IQ and bulldog mentality make up for it. As an NHL scout told me recently, “He doesn’t know he’s 5-8.’’
Ahcan, 23, is from Savage, Minn. He is the oldest of three hockey-playing sons of Tim and Michelle Ahcan. Roman, 21, is a junior at Wisconsin. Grant, 18, plays for Bismarck of the NAHL and is committed to St. Cloud.
I talked to Jack over the phone on Saturday. Some answers have been edited for clarity.
Q: Did you have a backyard rink when you were a kid and did you spend a lot of time playing outdoors in Minnesota?
A. “When I was really young, like just learning how to skate, my dad flooded the rink in the backyard. Then growing up, where I lived, there was a rink a 30-second walk away, so once we got old enough to be comfortable enough to walk to the rink by ourselves, we would just hop over there, but when we were 3 or 4, learning how to skate, we had a rink in our backyard.
“My dad would always build up the snowbank in our backyard when we were skating and we’d try to hit each other out of it, especially with my middle brother (Roman), when he was learning to skate he always wanted to be goalie. I’d put him in the net. Somehow it would always end up in a fight. … We definitely had our good battles out on the outdoor rink.”
Q. Minnesota is famous for its high school hockey. What was your high school experience like?
A. “We had a really good and deep team pretty much, growing up, all the way through. When I got to (Burnsville) high school, my sophomore year we had a great team. We ended up losing to Edina, who would always win the (sectional) championship (and advance to the state tournament). We had a tough time getting past those guys, Edina. Every year, I think, they beat us to win it. If we were in a different section, or something like that, we might have been able to make a big run at the state tournament, but, never got to play in it, which was tough because it always looked like a blast.”
Q. Who has been the biggest influence on your hockey career, the person who helped you the most to reach the point where you’re one step away from the NHL?
A. “The obvious answer would be my parents, helping me through every bit of my life, but I really look back at how lucky I got with my coaches, even going back to Squirt A, my first year playing organized hockey.
“I got super lucky with good coaches, creative minds, all the way up. In Cedar Rapids (of the USHL), with coach (Mark) Carlson, then with both Bob Motzko and Brett Larson at St. Cloud. It’s something not everyone gets. I was very happy with the coaching staffs that I had, and their creativity and their mindset.”
Q. What’s the biggest adjustment you’ve had to make in going from college hockey to the AHL?
A. “It’s just being a pro. On the ice, let’s say we’re up 1-0 going into the third period, it’s either time to shut ‘er down and play some defense, play smart or kind of feel out the game and stay on the attack. That’s something that might feel different for me on the back end. Maybe I can’t make a different play in the neutral zone or in the offensive zone. It’s adjusting to little things like that. It’s a lot different. Especially last year in college, you can get away with a lot more. That’s something that sticks out to me right now.”
Q. Have you had a “welcome to pro hockey” moment?
A. “There’s been a few times where, you know, I’m a pretty physical guy, trying to hit somebody and it’s like, ‘Oh, that guy usually falls down or moves a little bit more.’ There’s a lot of little things. When I got to score my first goal, too, it was like, OK, it was nice to get that one out of the way. Little bits and pieces of adjusting to the pro life, getting that pro hockey feel.”
Q. How would you describe your style of play and who do you try to model your game after?
A. “I’ve been really watching, especially lately, more offensive defensemen like Torey Krug and even different players like Quinn Hughes, and trying to pick what they do best and try to work on those little things. For my own game, I think I really use my hockey IQ and my mind, especially defensively, being a shorter guy, I’ve got to make those plays a little bit quicker than some bigger guys with a reach. So my hockey IQ and my skating I take pride in, whether that’s getting up in the play or leading the rush, that’s something that I really try to use to my advantage. Just staying low and body position goes into that with my skating, too.”
Q. Do players on the other team ever chirp you about your size?
A. “I actually haven’t really heard it much lately, at least. When I was younger you hear, like, ‘You shrimp’ or whatever, like that. I haven’t really heard it much, especially this year. I think if somebody were ever to say something, I’d be like, ‘You know, I’ve never heard that one before. You can probably come up with something better than that.’
“If somebody were to say something, you don’t let it get to you. It’s nothing, it’s all in the fun of the game, but obviously it would (give me) some more motivation.”
Q. What do you like to do when you’re away from the rink?
A. “I actually just bought a fly-fishing rod the other day. So I’m going to go and try to scope out some rivers around here. I love fishing in the summer. That’s a big thing for me, I’ve got a cabin up in northern Minnesota. I love fishing and then also I’m a big baseball guy, too, whether that’s watching or playing softball in the summer with a bunch of my buddies. That’s another thing that I really love to do.”
Q. What did you do with your signing bonus?
A. “I’m not a cheap guy, but I don’t really need to buy all the fancy clothes and stuff. My first purchase was actually a fishing rod – a Baitcaster. So I had that this summer. Then when I got out here, I bought a car (a Mazda CX-5 SUV). Those are my two purchases that really stick out. Those are the only things I really bought. I know I’ll have that fishing rod for the rest of my life, that’s for sure.”
Q. Your St. Cloud team went toe to toe with Nick Wolff’s Minnesota Duluth team for the last four seasons in the NCHC. What’s it like to have him on your team now?
A. “We’ve actually talked about it. I actually grew up playing every single level against Nick. We were talking about how our paths have crossed so much but we never really got to play with each other until we got here. He’s an awesome kid. He’s just a big, lovable guy, always a smile on his face. It’s always awesome, you have your own perception of a guy playing against him all these years and then you get to meet him. He’s become one of my good friends, him being from Minnesota, and (I’ll be) getting to know him even more in the summers or after the season. It’s been awesome. All these guys on the team are great, but he’s definitely one that sticks out. We’re going to become even better friends here in the future.”