Kurth won the 2022 Dave Tyler Junior Player of the Year Award, given annually to the best American-born player playing at the Junior level. Photo: Dubuque Fighting Saints
For Connor Kurth, satisfaction is a 13-letter word.
Scratch that, a 12-letter word.
Connor Kurth would have known that right away. That's just how his brain works.
He's maintained perfect grades as far back as he can remember, with the exception of one recent B-plus.
To the hyper-competitive Elk River, Minnesota, native, that B-plus was cause for inner unrest.
"It stung a little bit," Kurth said one afternoon in the 3M Arena at Mariucci Club Room.
Before I can ask if the "drop" in his academic marks hurt more than the tough-love coaching he received with the USHL's Dubuque Fighting Saints, he says the B-plus without hesitation.
Again, for Kurth, satisfaction is just a word.
Not content with an impressive rookie season in the USHL last year, totaling 15 goals and 41 points for the Dubuque Fighting Saints, Kurth exploded during the 2021-2022 USHL season. In 64 games, Kurth racked up 37 goals and 83 points and turned his plus/minus rating from minus-8 to plus-38 in year two with the Fighting Saints.
But to get to the offense, Kurth said he had to improve on the other end of the ice.
"The d-zone for sure," Kurth responded when asked what the difference was between his two seasons in Dubuque. "(I had to) clean that up. If you're playing less d-zone time, you're playing more o-zone time."
The formula was simple - the better Kurth played in the Fighting Saints' end, the more time he had on offense.
Kurth attributes the turnaround to former Dubuque Head Coach Oliver David, now an assistant with EHC Biel, a professional team in the Swiss National League.
"He was super honest with me, but I needed to hear it," Kurth said. "We cleaned it up, did tons of video, worked on it in practice. Just knowing what I needed to be better on, and he helped me with that."
Kurth added that David wasn't particularly subtle about his suggestions surrounding Kurth's defensive play, nor was he shy in telling Kurth he needed to get stricter about how he built his body.
"I knew it wasn't personal," Kurth said. "I tend to have a pretty thick skin, especially with coaches. They're just trying to help you."
Kurth's 81 points during the USHL's 2021-2022 regular season ranked second behind Dubuque teammate Stephen Halliday's 95.
After focusing on becoming stronger along the boards and in the corners, the now-chiseled Kurth reaped the benefits last season.
In addition to his gaudy point totals, Kurth was named the USA Hockey Dave Tyler Junior Player of the Year Award, which annually recognizes the most outstanding American-born player in junior hockey. His performance during the 2021-2022 campaign gives him 50 career goals in a Fighting Saints uniform, tied for third all-time in club history.
The improvements Kurth has made to his game aren't lost on the people in the personnel departments of NHL franchises.
"Kurth has good skill and hockey sense," an NHL scout said via text message. "(He) produced for two years in the USHL at a high level. I think he's worked on his stride, and he's taken enough steps that he'll be a pick at some point this year."
As for next season, Kurth will take his talents to the University of Minnesota, a decision he says came naturally.
"I grew up being a Gopher fan," Kurth said. "I committed an hour after I left campus after my visit. It just felt right. It felt like home, and I was really excited to be a Gopher."
Kurth is adamant that winning in Dinkytown is more important than using it as a development playground before a possible professional career. He can't stand losing, just like he couldn't stand that B-plus.
"Winning for sure (is more important)," Kurth said, surprised I would suggest otherwise.
"Let's get the natty. We need to get one."
Before he was lighting up scoreboards in the USHL, Kurth was piling up points as a member of the 2003 Gentry Galaxy Tier I team.