When flipping through his options to continue his hockey career, Austin Evans put winning at the top of his list of requirements.
Thankfully, Vermont-based Norwich University was in the pile and Evans opted to commit to the 2010 NCAA Division III champions, the Norwich University Cadets.
The squad has done its fair share of winning already this season, posting an 8-4-0 record to sit as the 12th-ranked team in the nation. And Evans has already contributed with a goal and six assists to sit fourth in team scoring.
"This program has already been a winning program and I came here to win. Every year, every game, we expect to win, nothing short of that," he said. "In the first half, being a big part of that as a freshman has been really cool and I want to keep it up, stay in the lineup and contribute as much as I can."
Evans got into the act quickly, assisting on Norwich's first goal of the season before scoring his inaugural tally at the NCAA level a game later. He was skunked for a period after that, unable to find the scoresheet for seven games in a row, but regained his touch just before the Christmas break with five assists in three games.
When he arrived in Vermont, Evans was initially slotted in on the wing, but was quickly moved back to his preferred position of centre. He now feels he knows what role he's playing, and is fitting in well with the squad.
"In Flin Flon, I was playing mostly centre," he said. "Now I feel like my role is the energy guy. I'll be on the power-play, contributing offensively but always, especially in my first year, trying to work on my defensive game as well."
The Cadets have a tough road to hoe within their conference, as No. 2 Babson and No. 5 UMass-Boston are grouped with them while a matchup with No. 3 Plattsburgh St. has been another test of their mettle this year. Though it is a Division III level, Evans noted the highest-flying teams provide a test for a player making the jump from the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League's Flin Flon Bombers.
"The top teams play at Division I speed and Division I skill, so it's been an adjustment," he said. "It's just a regular game now.
"I realized I can be a big part of this team this year even as a first-year and going on to my next three years as well. It's been a more gradual transition. There wasn't really specifically one moment (where everything clicked)."
Scoring his first tally was a special moment, of course, and it came on a pretty special day. Evans provided an insurance marker on the power-play to secure a win in enemy territory against Southern Maine. It was quite the way to celebrate turning 21.
"I scored on my birthday, so that was cool," he said. "We got the win, so that was most important.
"It was on the power-play, there was a shot from the point and it deflected off the defenceman. The puck was sitting at the side of the net there and I flipped it in with my backhand. It made the game 4-2 in the third period, so it put the game out of reach."
Off the ice, Evans said he's embraced the transition to Vermont, as Norwich is in a relatively mountainous area. And he's also enjoyed hitting the books after three years away from the classroom, too.
"The transition has been good and a lot easier than I thought it was going to be," he said. "I'm used to studying, and back to reading and everything is comfortable now.
"If you're thinking about school, you're not thinking about hockey all the time. I think it's good and it's healthy."
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