The Minnesota Mullets might not have been in the original plans for Darren Shykes, a 20-year-old defenseman from Duluth, Minn., but it ended up being a wise choice.
Shykes played a big role anchoring the blue line on a team looking to stay near the top of the tough USPHL Premier Midwest West Division and it was clearly noticed as he turned that play into a commitment to attend Finlandia University in the Upper Peninsula this fall.
“My goal was always to play college hockey,” said Shykes. “I looked at several schools and Finlandia just felt right. They had my major [Criminal Justice], and the small school was appealing to me. After visiting the school and talking to Coach Burcar, I felt comfortable going there.
Like so many Minnesota-bred players, high school varsity held some amazing memories for Shykes.
“I came from Duluth-Denfield High School, which has a rich hockey tradition,” said Shykes in an email interview. “I played four seasons there. Our goal was always the state tournament. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it during my time there.
“It was fun to play in Duluth in front of some large crowds, especially during local rivalry games.”
Shykes made the big jump from varsity to Tier 2 junior, first playing in a different league in Wisconsin prior to then making his biggest impact with the Mullets.
“It took me a little while to adjust to a faster pace my first year at the junior level,” said Shykes. He hoped to return and continue his growth, but his plans were ruined, like those of so many others in 2020. Mullets’ Head Coach, Chris Walby, himself a former coach and owner in Shykes’ previous league became an obvious choice.
“With the Canadian border being closed due to COVID, I knew I was going to have to look for other options,” said Shykes. “My former assistant coach Garret Hendrickson contacted me about Coach Walby and the Mullets. With several of my former Lumberjack teammates already there and having clicked with Coach Walby, I knew it would be a good fit for me.”
Shykes was new to the Mullets, but with many age-outs the previous season, he was expected to be a leader on the team and Shykes was all for it.
“I think it is important for veteran guys to show the younger guys the ropes/culture necessary to play junior hockey.”
While playing with the Mullets, including several home games in Lake Delton and Prairie du Sac, Wisc., Shykes began working on the next chapter in his academic and hockey career.