Ice Flyers Correspondent
Jake Wahlin formulated a love for hockey before he shed diapers.
Before being old enough to remember, his parents remind how he followed older brother Brandon in fitting on skates. He was all of 2-years-old.
“It was one of those things where as my brother started, I know I wanted to play and got all the hand-me-downs and everything,” said Wahlin, who grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, one of America’s top hockey hotbeds.
The desire, the eagerness, the progression has never waned. Wahlin grew into a talented junior player, then earned a college scholarship at St. Cloud State, which reached the NCAA Division I Frozen Four earlier in April, becoming only the second Minnesota school to attain the feat.
Now, the 25-year-old Wahlin has made an impact with the Pensacola Ice Flyers as the top rookie scorer in the Southern Professional Hockey League. The left winger’s 18 goals, 18 assists, 36 points are seven ahead of Macon’s Jason Tackett for leadership among first-year players.
“I saw him play quite a bit in college and knew of him,” said Ice Flyers coach Rod Aldoff, whose team ends the regular-season this weekend with road games against Birmingham on Saturday, then Huntsville on Sunday, before the SPHL playoffs begin next week.
“He plays the same way he did then,” Aldoff said. “He’s all out every day in practice. He works hard, a great kid, great teammate. He has been wonderful to coach. And he’s been a wonderful teammate.
“His success is no surprise to me with his work ethic, his speed and skill. He’s a guy who loves to come to the rink and put his skates on every day, so it is fun to watch.”
Wahlin is continuing a family connection with the Ice Flyers. Brandon, 28, played 13 games for the Ice Flyers in part of two seasons for the Ice Flyers during 2016-18.
Their bond extends into a younger brother, who is on the autism spectrum. The emotions flowed for Jake Wahlin on April 24 when the Ice Flyers hosted their second Autism Awareness Night benefitting Autism Pensacola.
Wahlin scored a pair of goals in a 4-2 win against the Knoxville Ice Bears. It was part of the Ice Flyers best home series of the season in winning all three games – two against Knoxville, the other against Huntsville.
The Ice Flyers raised $16,156 for Autism Pensacola through online and post-game jersey auctions, along with other endeavors.
“I think it was a really cool moment, especially with my little brother having autism,” Wahlin said. “It is something that holds a special place in my heart and it was something that was really cool to see. The passion, the people behind it, everything.
“And it’s a great cause and really nice to come out and get a win for it.”
The wins got the Ice Flyers back to .500 overall and in position to clinch third place this weekend, which would mean facing Knoxville in the playoff semifinals.
“That should be a confidence booster for us,” Wahlin said. “We went through a skid there (earlier in season) and it was definitely frustrating and it comes back to fighting adversity.”
“But knowing we can beat any team in this league is something we need to take with us and continue this momentum in the playoffs.”
An adjustment Wahlin had to make is handling the rigors of a pro team schedule. Unlike in college, teams can play four times in six or seven days.
“With the amount of games you have compared to college, I think consistency is something you have to try and continue to focus on,” he said.
“It is something coaches have preached to us, day in and day out. I think that’s something I tried to keep in my mind and take with me.”
In addition to being the Ice Flyers’ leading scorer, Wahlin ranks fourth overall in the SPHL, just ahead of teammate Darren McCormick.
He leads the SPHL in shorthanded goals with three. He is third in the league in power-play goals, assists and second in points. His 119 shots are second-highest in the league.
His 18 assists are second-best.
“He has a good skill set, but it’s his work ethic above all,” Aldoff said. “He never stops. You don’t see him gliding out there too often. He is always moving. He’s backchecking, he’s forechecking. He wants the puck.
“He has a passion for the game, plus he can play.. When you have it here (pointing to heart), it solves a lot of problems.”