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Triston Jensen, who played goalie for the Minnesota Owls in 2013-14, is back in Isanti as the new head coach and general manager of the Rum River Mallards.

Triston Jensen feels like a kid who has been given a Christmas gift.

“I feel as if the Rum River Mallards are a Lego set – and all we have to do is build the program,” he said.

A native of White Lake, Michigan, Jensen was named to replace Jimmy Jensen – the two are not related – as head coach and general manager of the Mallards. Triston Jensen joined the team in mid-December after finishing the semester as a student at Saginaw Valley State University.

Jensen is no stranger to this area, though, having served as a goaltender with the Minnesota Owls for the 2014-2015 season.

“It was down to playing here or in Helena, Montana,” he said. “Helena wanted to wait until Labor Day to sign me, while the Owls offered me a contract right away. So my dad and I packed my stuff and drove here.”

While the Owls struggled in their final year, Jensen said he learned lessons that he hopes will pay dividends with the Mallards.

“That year didn’t go the way folks here wanted, and that was tough,” he said. “But there were five or six guys who played together all year long, and we were a tight-knit group. It went out in a ball of flames, and that was sad to see. But we can learn from the mistakes that were made, and we can learn from the good that team did in the years and years before that.”

Jensen said spending the season with the Owls opened his eyes to the potential of a program here.

“Number one, this is a hockey-crazy town,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you have four wins or 40 wins, this rink will be packed if you treat people the right way. And that’s what we want to do. …

“The Kuznia family who owned the Owls did a lot of good things associated with the rink and with junior hockey in this area. I want to show people that we care about this community and the people in it, and we want to be a part of it.”

The 23-year-old said he views his job as head coach and general manager of the Mallards as a dream job.

“This kind of opportunity just doesn’t come knocking very often,” Jensen said. “I see this as a top-tier opportunity, because the amenities are all here. To take control of a program that is in its infancy, that we can build the culture I want – [build] the family atmosphere, the community. We can do something special here.”

On the ice, he said he is installing a system based on what he calls “old school physicality.”

“You have to hit and you have to block shots,” Jensen said. “Little things like that separate good teams from great teams. Our skill will allow us to score seven or eight goals. The key is to play with discipline, so the final score is 8-2 instead of 8-7.”

Jensen said this team’s roster is capable of competing for a national title in the U.S. Premier Hockey League.

“There are no cancers; the guys who are here are good guys,” he said. “And this system caters to that: If you work your tail off, you will be rewarded.”

Jensen and the Mallards struggled to start the new year, winning only once in four games at the USPHL’s Winter Showcase held in the New England Sports Center in the Boston suburb of Marlborough, Massachusetts, Jan. 3-5.

Rum River opened that tournament with a 6-3 loss to the Skipjacks Hockey Club on Friday, Jan. 3, a game in which the Mallards were sunk by a three-goal second-period outburst by the Skipjacks. Jake Hermann and C.J. Hoyt both netted short-handed goals for Rum River, while Cambridge native Derek Becklin also scored.

The next day the South Shore Kings scored three times in the first period and the Mallards never recovered in a 5-2 loss, with Sam Voss and Tanner Hallett netting goals. Later that night the Jersey Hitmen claimed a 3-1 victory, with Brett Anderson scoring the lone goal for the Mallards.

Rum River did claim a 5-4 shootout victory over the Atlanta Mad Hatters on Sunday, Jan. 5. Scott Moyer scored twice for the Mallards in that game, while Anderson and Sam Voss also found the back of the net in regulation.

Fan Appreciation Day planned for Saturday, Jan. 11

The Mallards, who are in third place in the USPHL’s Midwest West Division with a 20-9-1 record, play a pair of crucial games against division leader Hudson this weekend.

The teams will clash in Hudson, Wisconsin, on Friday, Jan. 10, then face off at the Isanti Ice Arena the next night. Jensen said there will be no admission charge for the 7:05 p.m. contest against the Havoc on Saturday.

“I want people in this area who want to come see one of our hockey games to get a chance to do that,” he said. “We’ll have a meet-and-greet with me and the players afterwards. Our doors are open, and we want people to meet us. We know it will be a playoff game when we play at Hudson Friday, and we want it to be a playoff atmosphere when we play here. We want it to be bananas, with the duck calls and horns and noise. We hope folks are as excited as we are.”

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