Johnnie Searfoss got a late start in hockey, but he got some sage advice shortly thereafter.
“One of my youth coaches told me, ‘You can be a goal-scorer, but you’re not going to score every shift,’” Searfoss said. “But you can make a difference by hitting guys and doing the little things.”
The University of Nebraska at Omaha junior forward has earned a reputation among his teammates and the respect of the coaching staff for taking care of business on both ends of the ice.
“He gives it all, every shift,” Mavericks captain Brent Gwidt said. “You can’t ask for much more. That’s a Dean Blais-type player. He may not get on the scoresheet every night, although he still does a good amount. But he does all the little things.”
Blais, UNO’s coach, confirmed that Searfoss, a 6-foot-2, 188-pounder from Colleyville, Texas, is indeed a Blais-type player.
Blais coached Searfoss with Fargo of the USHL and then — after Searfoss de-committed from Maine — recruited him to join him at UNO.
“He’s an honest (hard-working) player,” Blais said. “I thought he’d be a perfect player for us, just because of his character. There wasn’t a game, out of our 60 or so in Fargo, where I had to say to him, ‘Johnnie, you’ve got to play harder.’”
Searfoss is tied for fourth on the team with 10 goals and is tied for sixth with 19 points while carrying a plus-6 rating for the 14th-ranked Mavs, despite missing four games with a back injury.
But Searfoss is just as content to focus on other parts of the game.
“I tell myself that defense creates offense,” Searfoss said. “In the defensive zone, that’s blocking shots, hitting, communicating. That turns into offense.”
Searfoss, 23, is a relative newcomer to the sport, having started playing at age 11.
“My younger cousin played hockey, and around Christmas break we went to play pickup hockey,” Searfoss said. “I got some old skates, and I could barely skate, but I had a blast. After that I got in a rec league and I started building from there.”
Within a year, he’d begun skipping his competitive soccer games — he’d played that sport since he was 4 — for his hockey games and decided it was time to switch.
“I just decided I’d rather play hockey,” he said.
Before long, his skills began catching up to others who’d been playing longer.
When did he realize that he was pretty good at his new game?
“I’m still working on it,” Searfoss said.
Searfoss played with a Triple A hockey team in the Dallas area before moving on to the USHL to play two seasons with Fargo — the first with Blais as coach. He had 36 goals and 74 points in 120 regular-season games with the Force.
Searfoss changed his mind about playing at Maine because of the distance from home.
“I kind of decided that it was so far away and it would be tougher for my family to be able to watch me,” Searfoss said.
And since he enjoyed playing for Blais in Fargo, he figured he’d be more than willing to play for him in Omaha.
“I knew after playing for him for a year that he was the coach I wanted to play for,” Searfoss said.
Searfoss put together a solid freshman season with UNO, with nine goals and 13 points, but battled injuries while getting three goals and 12 points last year.
He said he played the last four months of last season with two torn groin muscles, which were repaired in offseason surgery.
“It was definitely painful and frustrating to come to the rink every day,” Searfoss said. “I’m glad I got it taken care of.”
Searfoss matched and surpassed his UNO career-high in goals during the come-from-behind overtime win at Alaska-Anchorage on Feb. 16, a win that rekindled the Mavs’ MacNaughton Cup chances.
He tied the game 4-4 early in the third period, then delivered the game-winner for a 6-5 victory with 32 seconds left in overtime.
UNO, which trails first-place St. Cloud State by three points in the race for the WCHA’s regular-season title, hosts Wisconsin this weekend.
The Mavs played an exhibition game Saturday, losing 3-2 to the Under-18 version of Team USA.
“It was an exhibition game, but obviously no one likes to lose,” Searfoss said. “Luckily it doesn’t hurt us in the standings, but it would have been good, confidence-wise, to get a win and play better than we did.”
After the Wisconsin series, UNO wraps up the regular season with a series at Minnesota-Duluth. A league title, home ice for the first round of the playoffs, a potential Final Five bye, and an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament are all still on the table — though none is guaranteed.
“The talk in the locker room is that we control our own destiny,” Searfoss said. “If we take care of the next two weekends, we’ll see what happens. We can only control what we do.”
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