Going, Going ... Gron
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
A year after scoring a career-high 32 points, Northern Michigan right-winger Tyler Gron knows he's now about to play the final regular season month of his NCAA career.
Said the undrafted senior, "I think, almost subconsciously, just knowing it's my last year to really prove anything — that's really helped motivate me."
That subconscious motivation, then, may help explain Gron's decidedly unconscious performance for the last two months. In eight games prior to this past weekend, the Spruce Grove, Alb., native amassed 18 points — an average of 2.25 points per contest and a significant contribution to the Wildcats' 7-3-2 record during the months of December and January.
Now, Gron has stretched together a string of particularly memorable performances on each of the last three weekends.
On January 13, with Northern Michigan trailing Michigan State, Gron assisted on goals in the final minutes of both the first and second periods — each time pulling the Wildcats to within one goal. Gron then scored a dramatic game-tying goal with less than 26 seconds to play in the third period, skating hard through the crease to redirect a desperation turnaround shot from sophomore linemate Reed Seckel.
"[Coach Walt Kyle] always emphasizes getting the puck deep, keeping it simple, and keeping it safe," said Gron of his tendency to contribute to goals in the final minute of a period. "Maybe with a few seconds left, that's what's been helping out."
A week after helping the Wildcats rally against the Spartans, Gron scored a goal and added three assists in a 5-2 win against a Michigan Tech team that he had already victimized — with two-third period goals — earlier this season.
The four points tied a career high.
"It meant a lot for me to be able to help the team out that night," said Gron, who is just one of three CCHA players currently in the nation's top 50 point scorers — despite the fact that six of the league's teams sit within the top 13 of the current, though constantly shuffling, Pairwise rankings.
In all, Gron has scored 12 goals to go along with 16 assists thus far this season. He also boasts a plus-9 on-ice rating, good for third-best on the team.
"In juniors, I always took pride in being the goal scorer," said Gron. "My game's shifted during my four years here at Northern, learning the defensive side of the game. But I would still call myself an offensive-minded player. I know I'm on the team to put pucks in the net or help put pucks in the net. That's definitely what I enjoy doing."
Last Friday night against Miami, Gron struck again — this time scoring in the first period to give the Wildcats a 2-0 lead in an eventual 2-1 win. On the goal, Gron cleanly beat RedHawks senior defenseman Will Weber on an inspired rush through the offensive zone before tucking a backhand underneath goaltender Connor Knapp.
Now, with only eight regular-season league games left on the schedule, Gron's contributions have helped lead Northern Michigan to a strong position in the Pairwise, despite the fact that the Wildcats are in ninth place in the hotly-contested CCHA standings.
Says Gron of the team's key to success, "I think we're really close-knit. You can notice even off the ice, it's a group of guys that gets along great, and it carries over onto the ice."
On the ice, Gron — closing in on 100 career points — is scoring at a rate currently unrivaled in the CCHA. Off the ice, he remains grounded, particularly in the values stressed by his family.
"My dad's been there for me my whole career, growing up," said Gron of his strongest off-ice influences. "He's still the first phone call I make after every game."
If Gron continues anything close to his most recent scoring pace, there will surely be plenty more to celebrate in his postgame phone calls.
And after all, this is the final month of the regular season. For a senior like Gron — might as well make the most of it.