With his Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League career now in the rearview mirror, Nate Hooper is bound for the United States - specifically, the NCAA.
The former Flin Flon Bomber captain and leading scorer will join the American International College (AIC) Yellow Jackets next season.
In three seasons in Bomber maroon and white, Hooper averaged more than a point per game, snagging 172 points in 169 games. That was capped off last season with Hooper wearing the captain’s “C” and finishing the season with 87 points and 60 assists in 58 games. He led the league in assists and finished third overall in point scoring.
Since the 2011-2012 season, only two other players have tallied at least 60 assists in one SJHL campaign – ex-Battlefords North Star Layne Young and Humboldt Bronco Logan Schatz, both last season.
Hooper joins an AIC team with one former Bomber already on the roster. Forward Joel Kocur will enter his senior year with the Yellow Jackets where he will serve as co-captain with fellow senior Hugo Reinhardt. Kocur played two seasons in Flin Flon and was a key part of the squad that went to the Canalta Cup finals in 2016. He racked up 71 regular season points in 57 games and added 18 points in 16 playoff games through that campaign.
The Yellow Jackets won their conference championship and advanced to the NCAA national tournament last season. Despite coming in as the 18th and final seed, AIC defeated the top-ranked team in the U.S., St. Cloud State, 2-1 in one of the biggest upsets in recent college hockey history. Kocur scored in the win. The Yellow Jackets made it to the national quarterfinals before falling to the Denver University Pioneers.
Hooper is the third Bomber to receive an NCAA scholarship this season. Forward Caleb Moretz signed with the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Tigers last October, while fellow forward Vincent Nardone signed an offer from University of Nebraska-Omaha days later for the 2020-2021 season.
Tyler Higgins is going from a Bomber to a Lion next year.
The 20-year-old defender from Beaconsfield, Que. signed a scholarship offer with York University May 23, allowing him to join the school’s USports hockey program next season.
Higgins was added to the Bombers’ roster in December 2018 after leaving the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). His arrival paid immediate dividends for the team, with Higgins scoring the game-winner and getting in a fight in his first game for Flin Flon. After 24 regular season games, the 6-foot-5, 229-pound Higgins finished the season with three goals, seven assists and 98 penalty minutes, adding another goal and three assists in nine playoff matchups.
Before joining the Bombers last season, Higgins played parts of five seasons in the QMJHL, mostly with Val-d’Or.
York plays in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) conference and finished last season with a sub-.500 record for the first time in four seasons, going 12-14-2.
Several SJHL veterans played with the club last year, including former Kindersley Klippers Dexter Bricker and Nik Malenica. Ex-Humboldt Bronco Kaleb Dahlgren joined the club last year, but did not dress for game action.