NORTH AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE: Doherty looking forward to next challenge

Entering the 2020-21 North American Hockey League season, Ben Doherty was one of the few returning players for the Odessa Jackalopes.

During this season, the 5-foot-11, 181-pound forward from Alexandria, Minn. has done what he can to help the team as an individual and as a teammate before beginning the next journey in his young hockey career.

He’ll take that next step when he takes his talents back north to play at the collegiate level in Minnesota.

Doherty recently committed to playing hockey at Bethel University, an NCAA Division III program.

“It’s awesome,” Doherty said. “It’s been a dream of mine since I was younger and it’s fun to see that dream come to fruition.”

Doherty is one of the 11 players on the team to commit to a collegiate team this season.

“That’s the premise of this organization,” Jackalopes head coach Jason Fortier said. “It’s to help players move on to the next level and play college hockey.”

Members of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC), Bethel University went 2-6 overall this year in a pandemic-condensed schedule.

The team went 7-14-4 in 2019-20.

The Royals are under the direction of head coach Chris McKelvie, who just finished his third year with the program.

“I think one of the things was that it was close to home,” Doherty said. “The coaching staff there is great and they’ve done a good job of turning that program around and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Doherty said he plans on majoring in biokinetics and he plans on going into physical therapy.

Doherty joined the Jackalopes in January 2020, coming in from the Utah Outliers from the Western States Hockey League, an Amateur Athletic Union-sanctioned junior ice hockey league.

That made him one of the few veteran players on this year’s team.

“He finished up the season with this club and this year, he’s been a real trooper,” Fortier said. “He’s been a co-captain. He leads by example.

“He kills every penalty and puts his body on the line. When we talked to Bethel University about him, what we talked about was the character that they’re bringing in. He’s somebody who comes to the rink and gives it everything.”

Doherty finished last season with two goals and two assists in 19 games.

He’s seen more of the ice this season and came in this year with something to prove.

“I think after the way last season ended, it put a sour taste in my mouth and I think I was able to bring that experience and past experience into this year’s locker room and help put us on a better note this year,” Doherty said.

While the Jackalopes have had some struggles this season and are on the final stretch of another year that will see them miss out on the playoffs (the team currently sits at 12-32-2-3 with 29 points) Doherty and his teammates are still trying to end the season on a high note.

They took a huge step towards doing that when they posted wins over the New Mexico Ice Wolves this past weekend, winning 3-2 and 4-3 on Friday and Saturday.

It was the team’s second series-sweep of the season with the last one happening in October against Wichita Falls.

“I don’t think our mindset has changed at all,” Doherty said. “Fortier’s done a good job of pushing us and making sure that we’re not giving up.

“At this point, we’re playing toward next year and I think that’s been motivation for the younger players and we’re still pushing each other to be the best that we can be.”

Odessa has seven more games remaining this season including this weekend’s final home series against Wichita Falls.

Before Doherty leaves for college, he and his collegiate-bound teammates are trying to help the younger players as much as they can.

“All of us older guys have put an emphasis on that and try to be the best mentors and show the guys the ropes,” Doherty said. “It may have not worked out for us this year to make the playoffs but it’s been a goal of ours to help push the younger guys for next year and make them the best players they can be.”