MILWAUKEE — For most student athletes after high school, taking their talents to the next level means signing on to play their respective sport at a two - or four-year college.

In the case of 2019 Marinette grad Wes Knutson, however, taking his talent to the next level meant signing to play in the North American Tier III Hockey League (NA3HL) which is one of just two USA Hockey-sanctioned Tier III Junior Leagues and serves as one of the top training grounds in the country.

Unlike most other sports, if you do not get a chance to play in a junior league, the chances of playing college hockey get much more difficult. So when the Milwaukee Power scouted Knutson at a showcase in the past, invited him to practice with the team his senior year and then offered him a spot on the squad for the 2019-2020 season, he jumped at the opportunity.

While the Power struggled to a 12-35 record and missed the playoffs, Knutson proved he belonged out on the ice with college prospects as he totaled a team-high 23 goals and 44 points and was second on the team in assists with 21. For his efforts in his very first season, the Power named the 6-foot-3, 180-pound southpaw forward their Offensive Player of the Year.

“It really feels great to be recognized for all the effort I put in throughout the summer and season,” Knutson said. “I was lucky enough to play with some really good players which really helped with the numbers.”

After finishing his senior year of high school with the M&M Thunder playing in the Wisconsin Amateur Hockey Association, Knutson noted that the speed difference between high school and juniors is “almost indescribable,” and that mixed with the grueling schedule can take a toll on the body after eight months.

He didn’t let that affect him on the ice, though, as he had his best game of the year three months into the season in December against Wausau where he scored three goals and assisted on another in a 5-3 win. In addition to the four-point game, he also had three points on five separate occasions.

In two games played during the week of October 30, Knutson carried Milwaukee to two wins over Breezy Point, scoring two power-play goals in a Friday night game and then adding another goal the next night.

Those two games caught the eye of the NA3HL and he was named the Bauer Star of the Week in the Central Division. He was named second star once and given an honorable mention three times.

While happy with the award, his goal remains the same — play well enough to receive a college offer. There is no telling when or if that might happen, but for now, with all of the craziness going on in the world; he can take some time to relax knowing that all of his hard work paid off.