DeKALB — Confidence is a vital trait for any successful college athlete. This is something first-year forward Hunter Wahl has in spades, and it’s evident while watching him compete.
Wahl and his teammates said he is the biggest trash-talker on the team, and he’s willing to call out any player he competes against.
“I don’t care how big you are or how little you are, I’m going to find something about you that is ugly as hell or something you can’t do, and I’m going to expose it,” Wahl said.
Wahl loves trying to get in his opponents’ heads with some trash talk or, as those in the hockey world call it, chirping. Wahl said slinging chirps also helps him play with more confidence.
“Whenever I’m guarding someone or I’m skating the puck up the ice, I’m always talking to either confuse the defense, or it pisses them off,” Wahl said. “If they’re pissed off at me, I’d rather have that than them trying to win the game because this year we need all the help we can get. If they aren’t focused, it’ll be an easier win for the team.”
Sophomore forward Brandon Ledyard and first-year forward Rodahn Evans said they get a kick out of hearing Wahl’s chirps. Ledyard said Wahl is usually successful at taking his opponents’ attention away from the game.
“It is the funniest thing to listen to because most of the time he doesn’t even know who he’s saying it to or what he’s saying,” Ledyard said. “He just wants to get under someone’s skin. He’s a wild child.”
Wahl said his competitive nature and confidence are the driving forces behind his chirping. The Casco, Michigan native remembers his confidence really starting to grow at age 10. As his confidence grew, his ability to jab at opponents followed a similar trajectory. As a 10 year old, Wahl said he was probably making immature comments about the moms and girlfriends of the kids he faced.
The Huskie said his confidence grew exponentially when he started playing defense for his high school lacrosse team. Because of the similarities between hockey and lacrosse, he felt much more skilled on both ends of the ice.
Pair that with his already high offensive skill set and it meant opponents would have even more headaches when they faced Wahl.
Wahl’s trash-talking has evolved a lot since age 10. Nowadays, he loves making comments about the older players on the teams NIU faces. Many players in the American Collegiate Hockey Association played junior hockey but had to join a college team once they aged out of juniors at 21 years old.
“A lot of my chirps are about [older players] needing walkers, and I’m 18 years old going around them,” Wahl said. “They were probably on the ice while I was still in the womb. I just make fun of them so they know I’m about six years younger than all of them and can still go around them.”
Wahl realizes that in a few years he may be too old to chirp other players about their ages. By that point, he thinks trash talking may not be a necessary component of his game.
“I’m hoping by the time I’m a junior or senior I won’t have to chirp anymore, and my game will handle everything,” Wahl said. “By that point, I should be 100% adapted to the league, and there’s no restraints when you can come with a lot of experience. I’m hoping we won’t have to chirp at all because we’ll be winning every game we’re in.”
One things Wahl needs to watch out for when chirping is the reaction from the target of his chirp. Sometimes, the chirping gives extra motivation to his opponents, causing them to work harder and making Wahl pay for his words. This isn’t hard for Wahl, as the 18 year old said through his experience, he’s been able to realize which opponents he shouldn’t trash talk.
“I’ve [been chirping] for a long time, and I know how a kid reacts right away,” Wahl said. “So I can judge it from there to see if I’m going to talk to him for the rest of the game. Anytime you talk shit, there’s a chance it can bite you in the ass, whether [that means] taking a huge hit you weren’t expecting from a big ass kid or maybe they go down and score on momentum.”
Another thing Wahl needs to look out for when chirping is the referees. Assistant Coach Jim Bristol said all of the new Huskies are learning the boundaries of referees as far as chirping is concerned.
The coaching staff realizes chirping is fun for the players and has a major role in the game, but they’ve been preaching for Wahl and his teammates to pick and choose their battles.
“When you’re dealing with testosterone from 18 to 25 year olds, that’s always a trick,” Bristol said. “Chirping has a part in the game, and [Wahl] has some great chirps, and that gets him motivated. Sometimes, if you’re too constant with it, the real benefit of chirping gets lost in the white noise. A chirp here and a chirp there can have a lot more weight than a constant barrage of vocal noise and a chirp pops up in the middle of that.”
Bristol said he prefers players like Wahl who need to be reeled in a bit over players who need a push to be motivated to play aggressively.
Wahl said he also needs to make sure his focus is on the game, not chirping. He said he matured a lot having played with older guys on his junior team last season. It helped him realize he shouldn’t be too engaged in trash talk while the game is going on.
“When the puck drops ‘til the play ends, my chirping is at a minimum,” Wahl said. “I’m always giving someone shit going into a corner but nothing huge. Most of my chirping comes after the whistle when I lock up with a kid, or a kid gets in my face or slashes me after the whistle. Little things like that; I like to rip a kid’s life apart.”
When Wahl isn’t playing hockey, he can throw out as many chirps as he wants without repercussions from ACHA referees, and he takes full advantage of it. Wahl said he will talk trash in any form of competition, as long as there is a winner and loser named at the end of it.
Wahl also chirps his fellow Huskies. His favorite teammate to talk smack to is sophomore defenseman Alec Porzondek. Wahl and Porzondek are roommates and were teammates last season for the Motor City Hockey Club of the United States Premier Hockey League.
Besides the impact his trash talk may have on the opponent and the confidence it adds to his game, Wahl loves chirping because it’s one of the reasons he loves hockey. He also considers it his way of showing love to the sport that has granted him so many opportunities.
“When I step on the ice, chirping is fun,” Wahl said. “That’s the fun part of the game for me. Everyone knows the business side. We have to get points [and] we have to get wins, but when you’re out there, you have to remember to have fun, too, or you’re just going to drive yourself crazy.”
After a slow start to the season, Wahl believes he’s settled into his role as a playmaker. He’s fifth on the team in points, with two goals and five assists.
Wahl said his slow start came from the learning curve that comes with competing against older players. Lately, Wahl has gotten more aggressive, and the results have followed.
Fans can watch Wahl and the Huskies play Jan. 24 when the team competes against Maryville University. The game can be viewed as a livestream on NIU Hockey’s Facebook page.