ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- There are distractions for any college hockey player, no matter the week. A player might have a tough test in class, a minor injury or a disagreement with someone close.
But last week was no ordinary week for Patrick Newell, a forward for the St. Cloud State University Huskies.
One morning he woke up to learn a bar in your hometown was the scene of a mass shooting. The tragedy prompted texts and calls to find out if anyone you know was at the Borderline Bar & Grill at the time.
The next day, wildfires prompted your hometown to evacuate, and he didn't know if his family and girlfriend were safe. He reached his sister, who was desperately seeking updated information on the fires.
Newell, a senior from Thousand Oaks, Cali., also serves as a key player for the No. 2-ranked Huskies, who were prepping for a series against Denver, the nation's No. 5 team at the time, starting on Friday, Nov. 9.
"Thursday was a hard day to wake up to the news like that," Newell said about the bar, a five-minute drive from his parents' home. "That's a place that everyone knows. It's horrible. It sucks.
"The first reaction is checking back home to see how my family and friends are doing. None of my family or friends were at the bar, thankfully."
Then Friday, the area for mandatory evacuation because of the wildfires crept into his family's neighborhood.
"All of the damage those fires are doing is mind-blowing," Newell said. "I had some friends have to evac and my family ... it was pretty close on Friday. Thankfully, it just kind of missed us and they got to stay home.
"And it's still going on. You just wish the best for everybody. It's a really tough time right now."
His parents, John and Carol, his sister, Clary, and one of his grandmothers all live in Thousand Oaks, about 40 miles west of Los Angeles.
"We were playing a big, important game, so you have to switch your focus," Newell said. "But after the game, I was checking with my dad and my sister, making sure nothing had changed."
'A touch better'
Newell's parents typically watch St. Cloud State games either on the internet or cable, but both were out over the weekend because of the wildfires. Newell, who plays right wing on the Huskies' top line, had a goal and six shots in Friday's win over Denver.
He also plays on the power play and kills penalties and helped the Huskies sweep the Pioneers. NCHC-leading St. Cloud State (9-1) plays host to Bemidji State (5-2-1) in a non-conference series starting Friday at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
Newell is off to the best start to a season in his college career. He has tied a career-best with seven goals, shares the team lead for points (12), ranks third on the team in plus/minus (plus-10) and leads NCAA Division I with four game-winning goals.
For some perspective, consider that Newell set career-bests with 21 assists and 27 points last season in 33 games, and scored one game-winning goal.
"I think before this, he was playing more on the perimeter," said Huskies assistant coach Mike Gibbons, who helped recruit the 5-foot-9 Newell. "I think the nine pounds of muscle he put on (over the summer) are paying dividends for him.
"Everything is a touch better this season," Gibbons said of Newell, who has 85 points in 116 career college games. "He weighs 159 (pounds), so those nine pounds are a larger percentage than for you or I putting on nine pounds. That makes a difference and has improved every part of his game."
Newell has been a producer for the Huskies in the postseason. In his last five playoff games, Newell has two goals and two assists -- and scored the game-winning goal in an overtime win over Western Michigan in the playoffs as a freshman.
'A special place for me'
Gibbons was interviewed for the St. Cloud State head coaching job after Bob Motzko left to become the head coach at the University of Minnesota. The St. Cloud State job went to former Minnesota Duluth assistant coach Brett Larson, but Gibbons decided to stay with the Huskies.
Gibbons is a former All-American defenseman at Bemidji State, where he received his master's degree and two undergraduate degrees. He also spent two years with the Beavers as a member of the coaching staff.
"I met my wife at Bemidji State and I coached at the hockey school there for 12 years," said Gibbons, who is in his 12th season at St. Cloud State. "Next to St. Cloud, that's the school that I pull for more than any.
"Beaver pride is very real. Our friendships are very real and deep. Bemidji will always have a special place for me."
Gibbons played for Bemidji State from 1975-79. As an assistant coach for Bemidji State, he recruited current Beavers head coach Tom Serratore when Serratore was a high school forward at Coleraine, Minn.
"But he ended up going to Mankato," Gibbons said of Serratore, who spent two seasons with the Mavericks before transferring to Bemidji State. "I'm still bitter about that."
Gibbons was smiling when he said that. He and Serratore have been friends for a number of years.