At 16, Jake Kauppila is one of the youngest members of Team Illinois (Midget Major AAA) and one of only three to have already committed to play Division I hockey. He made his decision back in August to join the Michigan Tech Huskies for the 2013–14 season and since then, we've spoken with some coaches and caught up with Jake himself during Team Illinois' recent trip to Faribault, Minnesota, for the Shattuck-St. Mary's Boys Prep Jamboree. While we'd love to get comments from the Michigan Tech coaching staff, they are not allowed to comment on recruits until they have signed a National Letter of Intent, so we'll have to settle for Team Illinois assistant coach and former Wisconsin Badger A.J. Degenhardt. Coach Degenhardt took a moment to discuss Jake and this is what he had to say:[quote]I think two of Jake's biggest strengths are his eagerness to get better and his work ethic. He is one of the hardest working guys every day, whether it be practice or a game. He is a fast skater that plays a simple game. He has a heavy shot. I think at [Michigan Tech] he should be a solid four-year player that can fall into many roles. He can play the third/fourth line grinding role, and when put with high end players he can also put up points. To sum that up, he does whatever you ask of him. He plays on both the power play and the penalty kill and does a very good job on the penalty kill. He has a good hockey IQ and understands the game and has continued to get better. With his size, skating ability and work ethic it will be fun to watch how his future progresses.[/quote] Since Mel Pearson has taken over, every recruit has been described as a good skater. Jake is no exception: even with his size he has a very smooth stride and appeared very quick on the ice when the situation required it. His size, skating ability and work ethic were certainly on display during Team Illinois' three games in Faribault. He scored 2 goals and added an assist and looked like one of the hardest-working players on the team. He was very strong in front of the net and fought for every puck along the boards. When Team Illinois finally took a penalty versus Marquette, Jake was aggressive on the penalty kill and challenged opponents with the puck. After the 6–3 win versus the Marquette Electricians on December 17, 2011, we caught up with Jake and here is what he had to say.
THG: You’ve made your decision to play college hockey at Michigan Tech. Can you tell us a little bit about your decision to become a Husky and some of the other schools you were considering?[quote]I was talking a little bit to Cornell, and the reason I chose [Michigan] Tech was because I have a lot of family up there. It feels like a second home, both my parents grew up there and I used to go the hockey camps when I was a little kid, so it just felt right for me to choose [Michigan] Tech.[/quote]
(We have it on good authority that Jake's mom actually went to school with former head coach Jamie Russell's wife and he caught the eye of the Huskies coaching staff, including Jamie Russell, back at those hockey camps.)
THG: You’re only 16 which is pretty young to make such a big decision. Why did you feel the need to make a decision at this point? Do you know what you want you're thinking for a major yet?[quote]Yeah, it really came down to the comfort level and having friends and family up there. As for school, I think I want to do something business. That's kind of what interests me. I've taken a lot of classes related to that in high school and those are the ones I've liked the most.[/quote]
THG: The Huskies made a change to bring in Mel Pearson with his 23 years of experience next to Red Berenson at Michigan. How much did he play a role in your decision? Who recruited you and how did that whole process work out for you?[quote]Well, at first it was Pat Mikesch. He's the one that started the whole recruiting process for me. Then I started talking more to Damon [Whitten] and when they made the coaching change to Mel [Pearson], that's when I made the decision that that's where I wanted to go because he's a really well-renowned coach in college hockey. That played big into my decision.[/quote]
THG: On one of the scouting services, you mentioned an interest in playing in the OHL as well as the USHL and college. Is major juniors something that you’ve considered or are you focused on going to college?[quote]No, I'm pretty set on college. I never really wanted to go the OHL. I really want to get an education, because that's a really big part of who I am. I want to get a good education just in case hockey doesn't work out or I blow out my knee, I want to have an education to fall back on.[/quote]
THG: You’re playing for Team Illinois this season and your team is doing very well. You specifically have been performing very well in the month of December averaging a point per game. Is there any reason that you think you're finally starting to put up some points with the team?[quote]In the beginning of the year, I thought I was playing well but pucks just weren't going my way. I was hitting a lot of posts, not putting the puck in the net, but I've started to get a lot more comfortable. I've been making a lot more plays instinctively and that's where I've found the most success.[/quote]
THG:Team Illinois assistant coach and former Wisconsin Badger A.J. Degenhardt described you as one of the hardest working guys every day, whether it be practice or a game. Would you consider that accurate?[quote]I feel like the only way to improve is in practice. If you work hard in practice it makes everyone else work hard and it's the only way you're going to get better.[/quote]
THG: How do you describe your game? What do you think you'll bring to Michigan Tech?[quote]I think I'm going to bring a good two-way presence. I'm really good in the defensive end and I've got a lot of skill to put points on the board.[/quote]
THG: Anything you want Michigan Tech fans to know?[quote]I'm just really excited to go to Michigan Tech, it's gonna be a blast. I can't wait.[/quote]
In 6 games during the month of December, Jake has 3 goals and 3 assists. It took him some time but he's really begun to find his rhythm recently. He needed to gain some confidence and become comfortable with his abilities but it's really started to show. Here is a compilation of YouTube videos of Jake Kauppila including a few taken by THG in the Team Illinois game vs Marquette:
It's been said on more than one occasion that Jake Kauppila is a good kid. It's hard to argue with that statement after getting a chance to see him play and talk to him personally. He should be a great asset for Mel Pearson and the Michigan Tech Huskies as well as the University in general. Michigan Tech fans will have to wait awhile before he suits up but that only gives him more time to improve his game with Team Illinois and eventually the Chicago Steel (USHL) so he can be as helpful to the team in his freshman year as players like Tanner Kero, Blake Pietila and David Johnstone have been so far this season.
This is the first in a series of articles that will take a closer look at future Michigan Tech Huskies. Check back next Tuesday for the latest installment.