UND commit Ben Strinden having breakout season with Muskegon
The Fargo native has hopped onto the radar of NHL scouts ahead of his arrival in college
GRAND FORKS — Ben Strinden was at a golf simulator with his Muskegon Lumberjacks teammates Thursday night when he got a call from his coach, Mike Hamilton.
Hamilton told Strinden that he was being added to the roster for Monday's BioSteel All-American Game.
"I had no idea what it was," Strinden said.
It's hard to blame him.
The forward from Fargo was not pegged for hockey stardom from a young age like some of the others selected to play in the all-star game.
At age 16, Strinden was not invited to play for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program. He wasn't even asked to try out.
During his first two years of NHL Draft eligibility, he was not picked. In fact, not a single NHL scout even had a conversation with him.
But that phone call Thursday was an indication of how far Strinden's game has come this season.
The UND commit, who has tallied 30 points in 33 games for Muskegon, played in Monday's all-star game in Plymouth, Mich., and did not look out of place alongside the country's top NHL Draft-eligible players.
"It was awesome," Strinden said. "It was crazy putting on the All-American jersey. I would have never thought that considering the year I had last year. The way you're treated is super legit. It was on NHL Network. I had friends texting me pictures of me on national TV. It was pretty crazy."
Strinden played on a line with uncommitted Phillip Tresca and Notre Dame commit Maddox Fleming.
His biggest highlight came in the third period, when he grabbed a puck from the corner, powered it to the side of the crease and nearly walked to the far post for a goal. The opposing goaltender got his stick on the puck to break up the play, though.
Strinden's performance was extra impressive considering it was his fourth game in four days. He played the previous three nights with Muskegon. The majority of the other participants had both Saturday and Sunday off.
"I felt like we were in the offensive zone the majority of the game, which was fun," Strinden said. "The pace of the game was really good. It was fun to play in it. I looked back at some of the scores (afterward) of other games, and it looked like a lot of blowouts. This was a close one."
Strinden's team lost 4-3 in overtime.
Last season, Strinden made the jump from North Star Christian Academy in Alexandria, Minn., to the United States Hockey League, but the former Fargo South/Shanley player found it tough to get traction.
Strinden suffered two concussions and only played 23 games. He scored one goal and had 10 points.
"Last year was still huge for my development and perseverance," Strinden said. "You kind of need a year like that. Coming in, you'd always been the best player on your teams growing up. You get here and all of the sudden, it's like, 'I have a lot of work to do.' It was an eye-opening moment. I'm super blessed and happy I had it."
In the offseason, Striden emphasized skill development — stick-handling, shooting and protecting the puck in tight spaces, especially around the net.
"That's where I'm going to score most of my goals," he said.
In his season-opening game at the USHL Fall Classic, he scored twice, surpassing his goal total from the previous season. By the end of the Fall Classic, an NHL scout talked to him for the first time.
There are about four or five NHL teams that have kept in regular contact with Strinden this season. He's eligible for the draft one final time.
"He's always been a solid defensive hockey player," Hamilton said. "That part hasn't changed. He's now starting to generate offense without being a defensive liability. To me, that's the biggest step he's made. He put on a lot of weight this summer as far as strength. He's really hard to knock off pucks."
Although the All-American Game featured mostly first-year NHL Draft-eligible players who were born in 2004, organizers did call upon a couple of 19-year-olds like Strinden.
He was the third-oldest to play in the game.
"I think I shot up a little later, but I think that's pretty cool," Strinden said. "It shows it doesn't matter how good you are at 14, 15. . . even 16. . . as long as you consistently keep working hard. It sounds simple, but if you keep putting the work in, you're eventually going to be rewarded for it. I'm starting to get rewarded for it."
Strinden is expecting to begin playing college hockey at UND next season.
"We thought he would be back next year and be our captain," Hamilton said. "But he's just taken off and now will be going into school and deservedly so. North Dakota is getting a hard-working kid, a great teammate. I'd be surprised if he doesn't end up being captain by the end of his career there at North Dakota."