Nearly three months have passed, and Jackson LaCombe still feels the sting.
“It’s a team game, and it was upsetting that we didn’t win in the end,’’ said LaCombe, a defenseman whose senior season at Shattuck-St. Mary’s ended April 6 with a loss in the quarterfinals of USA Hockey’s Tier I Under-18 national tournament.
“He’s still bummed that we didn’t win,’’ added coach Ben Umhoefer, whose top-ranked team finished with a 43-9-4 record.
For LaCombe, however, there are several silver linings to that cloud. He finished the season with a jaw-dropping 89 points (22 goals, 67 assists) in 54 games; he’s enrolled at the University of Minnesota and will continue his hockey career as a Gopher this fall; and on Friday or Saturday, he’ll hear his name called in Vancouver, British Columbia, in the NHL draft.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,’’ the Chaska native said, “but I’m excited about whatever happens.’’
LaCombe, 6-2 and 187 pounds, enters the draft as the 36th-ranked North America skater, according to the NHL’s Central Scouting service. He’s one of nine players committed to the Gophers, plus sophomore-to-be Ben Brinkman, who are among the top 200 North American skaters in the Central Scouting ratings.
In late May, LaCombe took part in the NHL’s scouting combine in Toronto, where draft prospects underwent physical testing and interviewed with their 31 prospective future employers. The highlight, he said, was getting to know the other players. “It was great to share the experiences of what you’ve went through and what they’ve went through,’’ he said.
What LaCombe went through in his Shattuck career is plenty of growth. He played forward through most of his youth career, before switching to defense late in his sophomore season at the Faribault boarding school. After a junior season in which he had five goals and 44 assists, LaCombe had a breakout senior campaign, with Umhoefer noting his improved physical play and leadership qualities.
“Around Christmastime, you could sense he was putting a lot of pressure on himself,’’ Umhoefer said. “I just told him, ‘Part of what makes you, you is how much you enjoy coming to the rink, how much you enjoy being around the team. That’s what you can control. … Continue to play with a smile on your face and compete as hard as you can.’ ’’
Said LaCombe, “Right away, it was pretty tough getting used to the defensive side of the game. But I had some good coaching, and it worked out pretty well.’’
He’s continuing that development with the Gophers, who have a need for talented, puck-moving defensemen. The team, not himself, is LaCombe’s focus. “The biggest thing is just winning,’’ he said. “Hopefully, it all works out and we can win at the end of the year. That’s the big goal.’’
First, he’ll find out in Vancouver which NHL team is in his future. His prep coach has a prediction.
“I really don’t know what to expect,’’ Umhoefer said, “but what I do know is whoever does select him will be really pleased with what they’re getting.’’