Though no stranger to playing championship hockey, Jake Hansen
finished his junior year at the University of Minnesota
unsure of where his future would lead him.
The native of White Bear Lake, Minn. was finding his way on the Golden Gophers hockey club, perennially one of college hockey’s top teams. He played in 35 games and put up 20 points (11 goals, nine assists) as a junior, but with his senior year looming and one last chance to pursue a national championship, he wanted more. Drafted out of high school in the 2007 Entry Draft (third round, 68th overall), Hansen projected as a strong two-way player unafraid of scoring dirty goals and able to kill penalties.
Heading into his final season as a Gopher, Hansen went back to the roots that made him successful and it paid dividends. The 6-foot-1, 191 lb. winger posted a career high in goals (16) and points (38) in 43 games this year as the Gophers advanced all the way to the Frozen Four, before losing out to Boston College in the national semifinal.
“As seniors, our goal was to get back into the NCAA Tournament and back to where Gopher hockey should be,” Hansen told BlueJackets.com. “It was about being vocal and doing everything possible to get back to where we needed to be. It turned out to be a great year for us. It was a great experience, and to get to the Frozen Four
was pretty amazing.
“The way it ended was tough, getting beat by BC 6-1…it was a little embarrassing, but I was still really proud to get to the Frozen Four. Obviously our goal was to win the national championship, but it didn’t happen for us this year.”Hansen signed a two-year, entry level deal with the Blue Jackets
just after his college career ended, but he’s quick to point out how it all got started five years ago.
The transition from the competitive United States Hockey League (USHL) to a prominent NCAA program like Minnesota didn’t go as smooth as Hansen hoped, but he was able to draw on the teachings of his junior hockey coaches to build his game. In 2006-07, Hansen was a key cog in the Sioux Falls Stampede’s run to the Clark Cup final and joined the team for the last 15 games after his high school season ended.
That championship run is still tops on Hansen’s list of most memorable accomplishments, but he remembers it now for the lessons learned which helped him develop in college.
“What it taught me was the important things: the puck battles along the boards, developing my game more from being just an offensive guy to blocking shots and win certain battles down low,” Hansen said. “If you want to have success at the next level, you have to be a reliable guy and be counted on to play in those situations. I learned a lot from my coaches there and winning the Clark Cup was an amazing experience.
“I learned that you have to develop your game, and when I got my opportunity, I knew what I needed to do in order to stay in the lineup and be where I wanted to be.”
Those experiences have become a big part of Hansen’s makeup, and he is ready to take the next step in his career as a professional. His agents, Ben Hankinson and Chris McAlpine of Octagon Athlete Representation, were in touch with him as the NCAA schedule wound down and helped him get prepared for contract discussions with the Blue Jackets.
Switching mindsets from playing for a national championship to joining a whole new team in a matter of hours was emotionally taxing, Hansen said, but he recognized the opportunity presented to him by Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson. After putting ink to paper on the contract, Hansen headed to Springfield on April 12 to play the final two regular-season games for the Falcons.
“It was a tough situation because it’s an emotional time and within minutes of getting off that rink (after the Frozen Four loss to BC), you’re already talking about a new team that you could become a part of and a new organization,” Hansen said. “But it’s a business now, too, and it’s about being able to help yourself out as much as possible. I was excited when we got the contract worked out.”
With the team in playoff mode and vying for the final berth in the Eastern Conference, Hansen’s first exposure to professional hockey was as valuable as they come.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking because you’re coming in for the last two games, and you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes or (tick) anyone off,” Hansen said. “You’re trying not to think too much and work hard in practice and show what you can do.
“It was a great experience to get down there, take it all in, and be able to play in the last two games of the season. We didn’t make the playoffs, but being there with the guys and seeing how hard they battle night in and night out was great to be around.”
Hansen said he knows he has an important summer ahead of him, and he plans to take part in the annual Blue Jackets Development Camp held after the Entry Draft. Whether he ends up in the AHL or plays well enough to earn a NHL job in training camp, he’s prepared to stick to his guns and let his game do the talking.
“I definitely like to play on the edge,” Hansen said. “I’m a competitive player and I feel like my vision is pretty good. Whatever the team asks me to do, I’m going to do it. My senior year, I was all about being solid on the defensive side of the puck and making plays on the offensive side when I get those opportunities.” TOP HEADLINES