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Walnut Creek’s Durflinger makes NCAA plans with Denver

 

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“You blankety blank, blank, blank!”

“Why, I ought to clobber you!”

Jake Durflinger has just about heard it all during his four seasons of junior hockey, most of the past two with the Bloomington Thunder of the United States Hockey League (USHL).

Through it all, the forward from Walnut Creek has done whatever it has taken to be a valued member of his teams, and at times a reviled opponent. His combination of skill and snarl no doubt made him attractive to the NCAA Division I powerhouse at the University of Denver as he recently committed to the NCHC school.

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“He’s one of those guys you hate to play against, but you love him when he’s on your team,” said former Thunder captain Jake Slaker, a San Diego native.

Thunder coach Dennis Williams, who traded for Durflinger early last season after previously coaching against him in the North American Hockey League (NAHL), welcomes the havoc his newly minted assistant captain brings, most of the time.

“He’s a fearless competitor,” Williams said. “He drove our team (Amarillo in the NAHL) crazy at times and got our guys off their games.

“He’s an emotional player. He lives right on that line of being effective and taking himself out of the game at times.”

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Durflinger, a 1997 birth year, played for the now-defunct Berkeley Bulldogs, the San Jose Jr. Sharks and the Arizona Bobcats before beginning his junior career at 16 with Corpus Christi of the NAHL in 2013. One year later, he was with Sioux City in the USHL.

Ron Filion of the Bobcats in particular was huge for my development,” Durflinger said. “He got me to the next level. I was trying to get junior experience at a young age. That made my jump to the USHL easier.”

Despite checking in at just 5-foot-8 and 167 pounds, Durflinger jumped into the USHL with both feet, and both hands, racking up 208 penalty minutes while scoring 22 points.

“I played a couple of roles, depending on what the team needed,” he said, adding that skilled Boston Bruins agitator Brad Marchand is his favorite player.

Therein lies the beauty of his game, Williams boasted.

“That showed he could adapt to any role,” said Williams. “That’s what makes him so great.”

And such an appealing trade target.

“He was what we were missing,” Williams said. “He could do it all – power play, penalty killing, win faceoffs, get pucks out. He’s a big reason we got out of the first round of the playoffs.”

Williams moved Durflinger from wing to center, yet another instance of his ability to adapt.

“He became a good faceoff guy, which is saying something because it was an adjustment for him going from wing to center in a league as tough as the USHL,” Slaker said. “He was a big part of our power play.”

Durflinger combined for 31 points in the regular season and playoffs after the trade, and his expanded role did wonders for him.

“More power-play time, being on the penalty kill – it was good for my confidence,” he said. “It’s my third year in the league and I’m feeling good.

“Getting that commitment early was good. The one thing that stood out to me about Denver was they make the NCAA tournament every year, just an unbelievable tradition.”

Photo/Niki Vincent/Niki D. Photography

— Chris Bayee