By Matt Mackinder
Kent Wargo played in the Michigan Mountain Cats’ organization as a forward for the Junior B team that skated in the now-defunct Great Lakes Junior Hockey League.
Knowing he had the confidence and skill set to make the jump to the North American 3 Hockey League, Wargo attended the Mountain Cats’ pre-draft camp late last spring and wound up signing with the club after that camp.
Now firmly entrenched on the Mountain Cats’ forward lineup each night, the 18-year-old from Attica, Mich., is enjoying his season in the NA3HL and said that after his early-season nerves subsided, he’s felt very comfortable on the ice.
“So far, this season has been awesome,” said Wargo. “Personally, I feel like I have improved so much and I owe a lot of coach (Chad) Grills and coach (Travis) Brayan for all they have done for me. Our record might not show it, but we have a talented team here and we’re just working to get all the mechanics down and work out a couple kinks.”
Last season in the GLJHL, Wargo started to eyeball the NA3HL and began his research to see what the league was all about.
“I’ve learned that the NA3 is simply the best Tier III league out there,” Wargo said. “You play a lot of games and the league is a hard, gritty, fast league with a lot of technique that doesn’t let you take any shifts off. I know a lot of the higher leagues and even colleges look to the NA3 for players and in my eyes, everyone wants to play in the NAHL and playing in the NA3 is the perfect developmental league to be able to get that chance.”
Wargo said that he and close friend John Arms, an alternate captain with the Mountain Cats this year, are consistently in the gym with the rest of their teammates and that Arms, as a second-year player in Michigan, has helped Wargo adjust to the speed and physicality of Junior A hockey.
“We were in the gym all summer long and we’re starting to see our hard work pay off,” said Wargo. “I feel like I’m bigger, stronger and faster and when you put that with game experience, I feel like I am getting all the development and experience I’ll need to move up next year.”
Putting in the extra work on and off the ice is a far cry to how Wargo first got started playing hockey.
“I was on skates before I could walk,” laughed Wargo. “My dad put baby boots on me and strapped those to twin blades and he used to pull me around our pond out back. We have plenty of pictures of that; just my dad dragging me around. My whole family grew up on the ice, but no one really played hockey. After school, I can remember coming home, getting on my skates and going on to our pond and my dad always being there. I owe a lot to my dad and he’s been a really big influence on me all these years.”
As for his future, Wargo is taking the realistic approach to where he wants to wind up down the line.
“Every kid’s dream is to play in the NHL,” explained Wargo. “And that has always been mine, but in all honesty, I just want to take the game as far as I can until I can’t go any further. I just want to be able to say that I put everything I had into this game and never sold myself short.
“Next year, I’m not sure if I want to play college hockey or another year of juniors, but we’ll see. I want to go to a lot of NAHL camps and really, I’ll play anywhere. It’s baby steps at this point, but I know that I will conform to what my next coach wants me to do and I will do whatever they want to the best of my ability.”
For the second half of this season, again, it’s baby steps for the Mountain Cats.
“We play in such a tough division (East Division) and no team is unbeatable,” Wargo said. “I think the turning point was at the NA3HL Showcase a couple weeks ago. Everything just seemed to click for us and all of our nerves went away. We all want to go somewhere in hockey and the showcase was the perfect time to do that.
“Earlier in the season, maybe guys were joking and laughing in the locker room and that’s fine, but now, it’s all business and everyone is serious. We will turn our season and we will make the playoffs. All the boys want to do is win and we’ll do whatever it takes to do that.”