ROSEAU, Minn. — The United States Hockey League officially announced the end of its season this week, shutting down in an effort to help slow the spread of coronavirus. For Fargo Force forward Aaron Huglen, it was just the bitter final end to a season that never really started.
A year ago Huglen was skating in Fargo after averaging better than two points per game in his senior season at Roseau High School. He was expected to spend the 2019-20 season with the Force, then become the most recent Roseau Ram to head to the big city and skate for the Minnesota Gophers. But life, and an unfortunate twist of fate, got in the way of that plan.
During a weightlifting workout last May, Huglen was injured, suffering a bulging disk in his back. He has not skated since then, in a game or in practice, and faces an uncertain future as he tries to get back to health and hockey.
He spent the winter both in Fargo, working with the team in other capacities, and in the Twin Cities for two or three weeks at a stretch, staying with a brother and meeting with orthopedic experts about his back. During his time with the Force, the team made sure Huglen never felt isolated, despite his inability to get on the ice.
“I was with the Force and did pretty much everything with them, I just didn’t go on road trips. I was at every practice and workout session. I was still with the team, just not doing as much as I’d like,” Huglen said this week, admitting it prompted some introspection. “It was a big change. It completely shook my identity as a person. Playing hockey your whole life, there’s a big change to go from that to a spectator. I had to find out who I was.”
Who he was is the hard-working, skilled player that scouts saw with the Rams, with the Force, and skating for Team USA internationally. He attacked the down time just as he has been known to attack in the offensive zone with the puck.
“Every player is different in the way they handle it, but Aaron’s a real team guy. He’s got that small town mentality and it’s really important for him to be part of a team,” said Force general manager Cary Eades. Along with the Force coaches, they let Huglen in on coaching meetings, and showed him some of the behind-the-scenes part of junior hockey.
“As difficult as it was he tried to do everything he could. He cut a lot of tape for the coaches and did video work. Whatever he could do he did, and he’s the same way on the ice.”
Just when he will get back on the ice is the great unknown. Huglen said he is likely to have surgery in the coming months, to correct the problem which has not been debilitating in daily life, but has limited his on-ice work to stickhandling without skates.
“I’m just in a waiting period right now. There are times when I can go stickhandle and I don’t feel like I’ve lost too much,” he said. “So I’m hoping to get back as quick as I can and pick up where I left off. But it’s definitely going to mean a lot of hard work this summer, once I get healthy.”
Faith has always been a part of Huglen’s life, and he admitted that his beliefs have been an important thing to hold onto in the absence of hockey in his life. In these unprecedented times when so much of daily life has been disrupted, Huglen’s future with the Force, and with the Gophers, is just one more question still to be answered.
“He’s dealing with the uncertainty but I think there are a couple directions he can go in the next little while,” Eades said. “And we’re really confident he’s going to be back on the ice next fall.”