All 29 teams in the North American Hockey League, round after round, passed on Talon Sigurdson in the draft.
“He was kind of an off-the-radar guy for everybody,” said Kenai River Brown Bears coach Josh Dubinsky.
They know who he is now — he’s the league’s leading goal-scorer.
Sigurdson, an undrafted free agent who got a tryout with the Anchorage Wolverines two weeks before training camp, has 15 goals in 16 games.
Mike Aikens, coach of Anchorage’s expansion junior team, said networking led the organization to invite Sigurdson to tryouts.
“I got a phone call from a guy, and it’s a guy who used to coach Talon,” said Aikens. “And he said, ‘Hey, I got this guy, and you need to take a look at him.’ "
Aikens put the 6-foot-2, 180-pound forward from Sartell, Minn., on a line with Cameron Morris and Aiden Westin, both of Anchorage, and the chemistry they immediately had means Aikens has kept the trio intact since. Westin plays center with Sigurdson on right wing and Morris left.
“That line, they just kinda think with one brain,” Aikens said.
In the Sept. 15 season-opener, Sigurdson scored all three goals for Anchorage in a 4-3 loss, and he notched another hat trick Oct. 2.
When the Wolverines made their debut on home ice at the Ben Boeke Ice Arena against the Springfield Jr. Blues Oct. 15-17, he netted four goals in the three-game series and earned the Midwest Division star of the week award.
It’s surprising for someone with Sigurdson’s skill set to have been a free agent after the draft. Aikens recognizes the team’s good fortune.
“It’s just been a tremendous success story. Any team could’ve drafted him. I’m not going to say we dumb-lucked into him, but we dumb-lucked into the leading goal scorer in the league right now.”
Nearly two decades into his coaching career, Aikens has seen enough hockey to identify what makes the polite and unassuming Sigurdson so dangerous.
“He’s gonna tell you his teammates have a lot to do with it. … What separates him is his hockey sense. Some guys are playmakers, some guys are role players. Talon’s a natural born goal-scorer. They have a different mentality.”
In elaborating on Sigurdson’s mindset, his coach put it like this: “He has a poise with the puck. There are certain guys — let’s say they dangle somebody one-on-one — they get so excited they can’t finish. He can beat guys and then has the poise to go in and score.”
The Wolverines play host to the Brown Bears on Friday and Saturday at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in their first home contests against an in-state Midwest Division rival. The Fairbanks Ice Dogs come visit Nov. 19-20.
Anchorage split a series with Kenai River at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Nov. 5-6 in its first encounter with Alaska competition.
There is no lack of familiarity, however. The Brown Bears have four players from Anchorage on the roster while the Wolverines have eight guys from Alaska’s biggest city.
Dubinsky, the Kenai River coach, noted the “small town-versus-big” dynamic and that “the rivalry has already started, even though we’re only two games into it.”
Along with familiarity in the hockey community come friendships. When Sigurdson decided to play for the Wolverines, a mutual friend reached out to a family in Anchorage he knew through hockey circles. And with that, Sigurdson had a family with which to “billet,” the system frequently used to provide young hockey players with temporary housing while playing for teams away from home.
Sigurdson is living with Glen and Dawn Bailey, whose son, Casey Bailey, now 30, has played in the NHL and is currently playing professionally in Germany. Being a part of the Bailey household means Sigurdson is in a structured environment conducive to developing as a player.
And while he doesn’t have a long list of chores, the Baileys don’t give him a free pass around the house.
“He does his own laundry,” among other things, said Glen Bailey.
The NAHL is roughly a quarter of the way into its 60-game schedule. With 15 goals in 16 games, Sigurdson is on pace for a noteworthy campaign. The league record for goals in a season — 60 — was set by Logan Jenuwine of the Amarillo Bulls in 2018-19.
When asked if he knew what the record was and how his numbers stack up, Sigurdson said “I have no idea ... I try not to look at my stats.”
Numbers aside, Dubinsky assessed the Wolverines star in simple terms: “He’s a helluva hockey player.”