Hulne: After early injury, Packers and Arnold haven’t faltered

Published 9:54 pm Monday, January 9, 2017

When the Austin boys hockey team opened their season with a big 4-2 win over arch rival Albert Lea, the spirits were high and the mood was positive.

But not everything about that game was a plus. Austin senior Isaac Arnold, who was one of the Packers’ top goal scorers last season, went down with a knee injury in that game and he has yet to return to action. The loss of Arnold was an initial shock to the Packers, but they eventually adjusted.

“I think at first, we weren’t sure how to handle it,” Austin head coach Jason Merritt said. “It’s tough when you lose 30 points off your top line. It’s hard to fill that spot when we didn’t have a lot of returning scoring. At first it was a mix and match to find the combination we had that worked best. We tried some different lines and we’re sticking with what we have now.”

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For Arnold, the injury was a test to everything he had worked for up to that point. With a lot of excitement headed into the season, he suddenly found himself on the opposite end of that spectrum after the AL game.

Austin’s Isaac Arnold brings the puck into the Albert Lea zone in the season opener against Albert Lea. Herald File PhotoJohnson/

Austin’s Isaac Arnold brings the puck into the Albert Lea zone in the season opener against Albert Lea. Herald File PhotoJohnson/

“You work so hard in the offseason to get better for your next season,” Arnold said. “To have it happen right away in the very first game is a very big set back. Since then I’ve tried to take it as positively as possible. I see a lot more things just from watching the games.”

Arnold, who is hoping to return to the Austin lineup Feb. 1, can now be seen playing a much different role for the Packers. He’s been a voice on the sideline to his teammates and he’s also learned a lot about the fundamentals of the game by observing it.

Merritt said that Arnold has played a big role for the Packers.

“He’s at practices and he’s on the bench on the games,” Merritt said. “He’s kind of that fourth coach for us right now and it will help him a lot when he does come back.”

While Arnold was a spectator when the Packers beat Mankato West for the first time in a decade last week, he still feels very attached to the team. He’s enjoyed all of the aspects and camaraderie that comes with hanging out with the squad, but he can’t wait to get back in the lineup.

“I can’t even really describe it,” Arnold said. “Every day, I’ve been biking and lifting to do some physical activity. Every day I’m at the arena, I push myself harder and harder. I’m so excited to get back on the ice.”

The biggest thing the Packers have accomplished this season is that they’ve been able to compete on a nightly basis. Of Austin’s six losses, only two of them were by two or more goals, which means they’ve been within striking distance on most nights they take the ice.

The team’s mantra under Merritt has been to compete hard on every shift and they’ve done exactly that in most contests.

“We talk about pushing past the barrier of the body telling you no, but the mind saying yes. They are giving us a lot, and they have even more to give,” Merritt said. “I like where we’re at right now.”

Austin (6-6 overall, 3-4 Big Nine) will host Mankato East (7-4 overall, 3-2 Big Nine) 7:15 p.m. Thursday.

Rocky Hulne is the sports editor at the Austin Daily Herald. Follow him on twitter @RockyHulneADH.