This week, Winnipeg product Ty Naaykens officially committed to play NCAA hockey with the St. Lawrence University Skating Saints of upstate New York in the fall of 2021-22. The third-year Manitoba Junior Hockey League star has 42 goals, 118 points and 46 combined penalty minutes in 137 total games between the Winnipeg Blues (2018-19) and the Steinbach Pistons (2019-21).
“My family and I are feeling really excited right now, as the last few days here have been filled with lots of emotions,” Naaykens told Game On. “I was in conversation with quite a few schools, but St. Lawrence presented an offer that was too good to pass up. It’s a school that is recognized academically, which is important to my family and I.”
Having committed on Sunday, the 19-year-old publicly announced the decision via his Twitter feed on Monday, to which he received many well-wishes.
Extremely excited to announce my commitment to play Division I hockey and further my education at St.Lawrence university! I want to thank my friends, family, billets and coaches for all the support! Excited for the future and becoming a Saint⚜️ @SkatingSaints pic.twitter.com/rmLkdWZ3Et
— Ty Naaykens (@NaaykensTy) November 30, 2020
“Playing college hockey has always been the goal for me,” Naaykens said. “There was a period of time there in my midget years where the WHL was an option, but I am glad that things worked out like this. In the back of my mind, college hockey was always the route I wanted to go. It feels like it’s been a long time coming, but it’s definitely been worth it; I’m super excited for the future and what’s to come with St. Lawrence.”
Now having chosen where he will play out his university hockey career, the biggest decision for the 6-foot-1, 185-pound forward will be choosing a major and his area of study.
“I haven’t completely decided yet, but I am planning on leaning towards either biology or an economics degree,” Naaykens stated. “I know those are two very separate areas of study, and I do have to make a decision in the near future, but it’s between those two. It’s on the smaller side, but St. Lawrence is a school that I’m going to be able to go in and hopefully make an immediate impact. I’m going to head down there next fall and get my education while helping out the team as best I can. That’s the overall goal and I am really excited for the opportunity.”
Luckily for Naaykens, he won’t have to go at it alone, as two fellow Manitobans will also be joining the Skating Saints in 2021.
“Mason Waite and I have played against each other in years past,” Naaykens reflected. “He was captain of the Wild when I was playing Midget with the Bruins, so I’ve gotten to know him on the ice back then. I also trained with him this summer, so Mason and I have never been shy to talk to one another. He actually reached out to me on Monday and it meant a lot to hear from him. It’s nice being able to go down there with someone that I know – both he and Drake Burgin, who I have played against in the past.”
Now in his third season within the MJHL – and second with the Pistons – Naaykens knows just how important of a role Steinbach has played in his development as a player ready for university hockey in the United States.
“Getting the trade to Steinbach a couple of years ago was a real stepping stone in my development,” Naaykens said. “It allowed me to get away from home and experience a bit of that ‘on your own’ lifestyle; it was a different piece of scenery for me. Steinbach offers a lot of resources in the gym from our trainer Jeff, to great coaches like Paul and Bugyik, and skills coaches like JP Vigier. Those resources really present themselves when you go to Steinbach. The fans come out every day and provide that extra motivation to play, and I owe a lot to Steinbach, the fans and especially my teammates. It’s a first-class organization and I love it for that.”
Although currently on the sidelines and dealing with a paused 2020-21 season (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) Naaykens has been able to keep himself in shape back in his Island Lakes neighbourhood.
“COVID has definitely made me realize just how much I miss going to the rink every day, seeing the guys and that lifestyle back in Steinbach,” Naaykens said. “At home I’ve been bored. I’ve been keeping up with my university course and I’ve got weights here at home that I train with. We also have an outdoor rink here one the lake behind the house, and I’m able to use that lots. I feel pretty fortunate to have that option, as not many people have a rink just out back that they can go skate on in times like these. At this point, I’m just trying to abuse those things as much as I can right now!”