Meet Hunter Wahl, NIU hockey’s outspoken leader

Senior+forward+Hunter+Wahl+handles+the+puck+during+NIU+hockey%E2%80%99s+game+against+Purdue+University+Northwest+on+Oct.+14.+%28Beverly+Buchinger+%7C+NIU+Hockey%29

Beverly Buchinger | NIU Hockey

Senior forward Hunter Wahl handles the puck during NIU hockey’s game against Purdue University Northwest on Oct. 14. (Beverly Buchinger | NIU Hockey)

By Alex Crowe, Senior Sports Reporter

Senior forward Hunter Wahl is leaving his mark during his last season with NIU hockey through his hard-working attitude and vocal leadership.

Wahl grew up in Port Huron, Michigan, where his dad laced up his son’s skates before he started preschool.

“I skated for the first time when I was 3 years old. He took me to learn to skate. I just liked the rink by my house, and I guess it just kind of went on from there,” Wahl said.

With hockey being a big attraction in Michigan, Wahl’s path to the rink came naturally.

“There’s like four rinks by my house and going down to Detroit, there’s probably like 20 rinks in between my house and Detroit,” Wahl said.

Before their future reunion at NIU, junior forward Austin Walny met Wahl in his age 13 season playing youth hockey in Michigan. 

Walny shared his impressions of Wahl after seeing him on the ice for the first time.

“First time I met him, I was like ‘this kid is a nut job. The kid is crazy,’” Walny said. “The kid is just full of energy. He just loves the game like everyone else.” 

Wahl’s hockey journey led him to the then Motor City Hawks, now Gamblers, of the United States Premier Hockey League where he posted 11 goals and 11 assists in his only season.

Making the jump to college hockey, Wahl used his experience playing junior hockey to get used to facing bigger and more experienced competition. 

“You kinda have to change your playstyle,” Wahl said. “I was always more of a skill guy, and you had to learn to kind of be able to bump it around a little bit in these leagues. So, it was a little bit of an adjustment.”

 

Wahl said he sees himself as a playmaker who uses his skill and intelligence to be impactful in the offensive zone.

“I think that I know where I need to be and just know the fundamentals of the game by playing it for so long,” Wahl said.

His skills on the ice caught the attention of head hockey coach Brad Stoffers, who coached against Wahl in the USPHL. 

Stoffers praised the playmaking and skating abilities of a USPHL foe-turned-NIU-friend.

“A little bit flashy,” Stoffers said. “He’s a guy that has good puck skills, good stick skills. So, you notice somebody out there that’s flashy.” 

Because of his on-ice skill, Wahl doesn’t shy away from high-pressure moments and wants to be involved in every aspect of the game. 

Stoffers said that in his eyes, Wahl isn’t satisfied with being in high-leverage moments; he wants to thrive in them.

Senior forward Hunter Wahl battles for the puck in the neutral zone against a Purdue University Northwest player during the Huskies’ match against the Pride on Oct. 14. (Beverly Buchinger | NIU Hockey)

“He wants the puck on his stick for some of the faceoff plays we’re doing and different situations on the power play … he has the confidence that he can score in those situations,” Stoffers said. 

For Wahl, that confidence comes from knowing he will outwork his opponent.

“I would never say ‘no’ to any situation at any time,” Wahl said. “I think that anytime I go out there, I’ll work harder than the dude in front of me.”

Wahl serves as an assistant captain for the Huskies. With this being his first season wearing an A on his jersey, he summed up his leadership style and the adjustments he’s made to fit the role. 

“Vocally, I’m very loud,” Wahl said. “I like to get in a lot of people’s heads during games … I don’t want any penalties, bad influence, stuff like that. So, I’ve toned that stuff down a little bit this year.”

As a vocal leader, Wahl isn’t afraid to be hard on his teammates. 

Walny said he sees Wahl as someone who will identify and correct problems.

“After intermission – just coming in – either hype or furious, whatever emotions he’s feeling, he’ll express that to the locker room. People know how he’s feeling,” Walny said. “You’ll definitely know when you made a mistake. He’ll tell you what’s wrong but show you how to fix it.” 

Embracing a vocal leadership style means Wahl has to hold himself accountable in areas where he’s also hard on his teammates. 

During the team’s post-game workout on Saturdays, players with the most ice time do fewer exercise sets, and players with less ice time do more sets. 

Walny expressed a time during a workout when Wahl’s leadership stood out. 

“I remember Hunter (Wahl) had, like, 26, 27 minutes (of ice time), and he ended up doing all three sets no matter what,” Walny said. “Seeing him do that, it really made me want to work with him. It goes to show what he does. He’s being a role model for the team.”

With the team sitting at 0-10, Wahl tries to be a positive influence on a struggling team.

Stoffers explained that Wahl keeps a glass-half-full attitude.

“He’s a guy that’s trying to stay positive. He wants to see growth,” Stoffers said. “He’s vocal, and he’s trying to keep guys positive and pumped up and keep guys thinking about the bright side.”

As someone who tries to be a beacon of positivity, Wally, as he’s known on the team, said he likes to keep the mood light off the ice.

He detailed one of his favorite off-ice team bonding activities: Rookie Idol.

“On the first road trip of every year, all the rookies have to pick a song. We have a speaker on the bus that we play music on,” Wahl said. “They can think Katy Perry, Taylor Swift all the way to Eminem. Whatever they choose. They all get rated on what they sing. Whoever wins, they get away from rookie responsibilities for, like, a week.” 

Wahl and the Huskies will look to get their first win of the season when they take on the University of Jamestown at 7 p.m. Friday in North Dakota.