A New Dey
by Tom Reale/CHN Correspondent
It's not always easy to live up to high expectations. After two seasons at St. Cloud State and 80 games in a Husky uniform, Nate Dey was getting plenty of playing time, but had only 10 goals and 16 assists on his career scoresheet.
"It definitely felt like a struggle during my first two years," says Dey. "It takes time to come in and step up to the next level, and that's true of any level that you move up to. It was slow going the last two years, and then suddenly you're a junior and you come to the realization that things are going by so fast. High school felt the same way, it's unbelievable how fast things can go by."
As this season began, Dey came out firing on all cylinders. In the very first weekend of the season, he set up four of eight St. Cloud goals, two on both nights of the WCHA opener against Denver. Then, the next weekend against Minnesota State, he did it again, gaining two assists on the weekend.
And then it clicked further, as Dey scored two goals — his first of the season — in last Saturday's win over Clarkson, with four assists on the weekend to boot.
"I knew it was time to step it up and do more," he said. "I wanted to make more of a contribution and not just be sitting back."
Growing up in North St. Paul, Nate Dey knew early on that he wanted to play hockey.
"I guess watching the game on TV when I was young was what really got me interested in playing. I decided that that was what I wanted to do. All of my friends were playing too, so it was a pretty easy decision.
"I don't even know how old I was when I started playing — maybe five or so. I've been playing since I can remember even though no one in my family really played. My dad was a big football and basketball player and that was about it for sports in my family. No one really knew much about it, it just really came out of nowhere for them."
Like many youngsters in Minnesota, Dey spent countless hours on the ponds and outdoor rinks around his home.
"My friends and I would play outside all the time," Dey says. "We'd play after school until it got too dark and they'd make us come in. That was really where we played the most was on our own. So it was more out of being with my friends than my family's influence that led me to the game."
Dey's passion for the game continued as he grew older, and even eventually spread to other members of his family — his sister Stacy also began playing, and now also plays hockey at St. Cloud State.
Once he reached high school, Dey began turning heads as his career progressed. It soon became apparent that he was not only good enough to play at the Division I level, scouts and coaches alike were pegging him as one of the top high school players in the state, And in his senior season, Dey was honored with a nomination for the title of Mr. Hockey, awarded annually to the top skater in Minnesota High School hockey.
"I was just happy to be on the top 10 list, to be sitting up there. Then they called my name and it was something I wasn't ready for," Dey says. "I was just sitting in my seat thinking, 'What's going on? They just called my name.'
"When I was sitting up there at the table with all of the rest of the guys, I didn't think I'd win it at all. You look at some of the names that were up there and they're all great hockey players."
Dey had beaten out players like Ben Gordon of International Falls (now at Minnesota), Apple Valley's Mike Lundin (Maine), Garrett Regan of Hill-Murray (Notre Dame), and Holy Angels' Jimmy Kilpatrick (Colorado College).
"It's such a big honor and a big deal to be Mr. Hockey that it's impossible to say that it doesn't rank pretty high in things that I've done. For people to think that you're that good as a high schooler, it still feels really special."
Dey was soon to become part of a growing trend — Mr. Hockey winners who were not on their way to the University of Minnesota. Between 1988 and 2000, every Mr. Hockey winner had gone on to play for the Golden Gophers, and at the time Nate won in 2003, 15 of 18 previous winners had gone to Minnesota. Roseville's Marty Sertich initially broke the string in 2001 when he went to Colorado College, but Dey was ready to break tradition again.
"The 'U' sent me a few things but I didn't think they were too interested. I knew pretty early on that I didn't want to go there anyway. As soon as I got my chance to come to St. Cloud, I jumped on it — this is where I wanted to come. I couldn't jump on it fast enough."
Dey became the first Mr. Hockey winner to attend St. Cloud State, and the next two winners, Tom Gorowsky and Brian Lee, also chose to attend other WCHA schools, choosing Wisconsin and North Dakota, respectively.
After a solid season in the USHL with the Green Bay Gamblers, Dey came to St. Cloud State in time for the 2004-05 season and began seeing plenty of ice time right away. Already, he has created memories which will last a lifetime.
"Last year, making it to the Final Five was probably the greatest experience I've had in the game other than being named Mr. Hockey," Dey says. "It was really enjoyable just being there, and then to get as far as we did just makes you want to get back the next year and the year after that. You want to shoot for that every year you're here, and then you want to be playing in the national tournament. You're having more fun the farther you're getting."
Dey played in all three games at the Final Five in St. Paul last season, scoring a goal in the play-in game against Minnesota-Duluth and adding an assist in the overtime thriller in the semifinals against Minnesota.
Dey feels confident that the team is destined for big things in his junior season.
"I think we can play in the national tournament this year. You come into every season believing that you can do it, but it feels really good this year being around such good players. It helps so much that we all get along and have terrific chemistry. I feel like we've got such a great chance to go back to the Final Five and beyond this year."