It didn’t long for Nick Sajevic to experience both ends of the spectrum of playing in the North American Hockey League.
The Chippewa Steel rookie forward has quickly emerged as a dependable scoring option and entering this week’s two games against the Minnesota Wilderness has shown early on he has what it takes to play at the junior hockey level.
Sajevic enters Friday’s game tied for third on the team in scoring with 17 points, scoring six goals and assisting on 11 others in 24 games. He’s tied for the team lead with three power-play goals and scored twice in Chippewa’s most recent win, a 4-3 overtime victory over the Minnesota Magicians on Nov. 13.
“He’s had some great production coming in as a young kid,” Chippewa coach Casey Mignone said of Sajevic. “He’s had some ups and downs but for the most part even when he’s not producing he’s super reliable in his own end and good on face-offs. He’s made a really nice transition so far.”
A native of Shorewood, Minn., Sajevic is one of 13 listed rookies on the Steel roster currently. Sajevic said having so many players in the same situation has helped them bond and utilize every bit of practice and game action to help get familiar with the big step up into junior hockey.
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“I think there’s a lot of us in the same boat,” Sajevic said. “We have a lot of rookies on our team so we all push each other and try to get better every day. We all have each other’s back so we’re just gonna keep trying to get better every day and get some wins.”
Sajevic is making the jump straight from prep hockey to the junior ranks after leading Gentry Academy to a Class A state championship last spring. Sajevic scored 25 goals and assisted on 21 others in 19 games including a goal, assist and team-high eight shots on goal in Gentry’s 8-1 state title win over Dodge County on April 3.
“They were a dominant team, he was a dominant player on that team,” Mignone said of Sajevic in high school. “They had the puck a lot. For him to come here and now have to play a lot without the puck was, I don’t want to say new, was a jump and he’s handled it really well.”
Sajevic wasted no time making an impact with the Steel this season, scoring the first goal of the season for the team in the first period of a 5-1 win over Kenai River on Sept. 10. The rookie also felt the business end of a tough hit in that game in a bit of a ‘welcome to the league’ moment for Sajevic but overall he said finding success on offense early helped him settle in.
“The jump from high school hockey to here was really a lot of different,” Sajevic said. “I think all the practices we have every day helped prepare me. I think we really push each other in practice and that allows me to do well in games.”
Chippewa will see the Wilderness for two more games this week after facing off with Minnesota twice last week. The Steel started the week with a tough 3-2 overtime loss last Thursday at Chippewa Area Ice Arena before suffering a 6-0 shutout loss on the road on Saturday. Mignone felt the team played well for five periods and an overtime last week with the wheels falling off in the final period of Saturday’s loss as the Wilderness scored four times to pull away.
The Steel (12-11-0-1) enter the week fifth in the Midwest Division standings with 25 points, six points back of Springfield atop the division where the top-six teams are separated by just eight points. Friday night’s weekend series opener will be at Chippewa Area Ice Arena before the teams head for Cloquet, Minn. for a Saturday evening showdown.
“I think obviously we’re trying to get some more wins,” Sajevic said. “We are in the middle of the hump right now but we keep getting better every week. I think we have a lot of potential. We’ve just got to keep getting better every day at practice and doing what we’re doing.”