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Welcome To October’s Newsletter

 

groupstandingfornewsletterWelcome to our October ’17 newsletter.

With the new season underway, we are extremely busy with ongoing junior trades, and the movement of players at all levels of hockey, for various reasons.

It is beginning to get to the time of year when players who are considering prep school options for next year, need to begin to get their “ducks in a row”, and for those who believe that they need help getting to the proper spot, please do not hesitate to reach out to us to discuss that possibility.

Players are starting to get invites to various  summer showcase events. Everyday, we get asked by our clients, which are the best ones for them, and it truly is based on personal circumstances.

We suggest showcase events based on the things that we know about our player clents. For example, why would a player who wishes to attend a college for Engineering, attend an event that only has liberal arts and business school recruiters at it? Interesting, right!! Especially when another event is possibly occurring (on the same weekend) with 6-7 Engineering programs in attendance.

Knowing what we know about a player’s grades in school, might suggest to us the best events that match a client. Which events are attended by college recruiters which might be an academic match.

Keeping track of the colleges that we know will need a high impact right shot defenceman, as a 2019 freshman, might indicate which would be the proper event to attend to get seen by the most appropriate recruiter. These are the sorts of things that we can help with.

We often say, “It’s the things that you don’t know, that you don’t know…”.

We know the “ins and outs” of helping players and their families make the right decisions, and make the right choices, to maximize their chances of playing at the right U-18, Prep School, Junior, and at College programs. It’s our full-time work….. “it’s what we do…..”

Let us know if you think we can help you make the right decisions, to get noticed….., and we can discuss the possibility of working together.

Sincerely,

David, John and Brad

 

 

Posted in Newsletter

Lace ‘Em Up Foundation for Kids Scholarship Award – $5,000 for 2017/18 Grads

Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser, Canadian Tire's newest sport partner, encourages members of Calgary-area girl's hockey team to get involved in Canada's game. (CNW Group/CANADIAN TIRE CORPORATION, LIMITED)

The deadline is November 1st – APPLY SOON!

On November 23rd – the Opening party for the second weekend of WickFest, Hayley Wickenheiser and Susan Anderson of Lace ‘Em Foundation for Kids will be announcing the award of a number of $5,000 scholarships for young women in Hockey!

These inaugural awards will be given to:

  • Girls ONLY!
  • Who have, or continue to participate in hockey!…. especially WickFest
  • Who maintain a good GPA or Average 80% or above
  • Who will attend a Canadian accredited University or College

Hayley Wickenheiser will be among the committee makes the selections and the big announcement of recipients will be made on November 23rd at WICKFEST!

To apply CLICK BELOW.

Lace ‘Em Up Application and Details : Original Word Document

Lace ‘Em Up Application and Details : Fillable Form PDF

 

Posted in Female Hockey

NCAA Hockey Versus Canadian Major Junior – Is One Better

Marc Elliott

PALISADE… When it comes to American college hockey going up against Canadian Major Junior hockey, is one of these superior to the other or is the gap closer then ever? There was a day when the most sure route to get to professional hockey in general and to the National Hockey League in particular went through Canadian Junior hockey. That has undergone some big challenges the past few years and the debate has become more intense then ever as well. At one time in the history of the NHL you pretty much had to be Canadian and Caucasian to work in this league. If my memory is somewhat correct, Duluth’s Tommy Williams played at a time whereby he was the only American player in the league. Coming off of the Americans 1960 Gold Medal “Forgotten” Miracle team, Williams became the first American to get a regular playing spot since Eveleth’s Frankie “Mr. Zero” Brimsek retired in 1950.

It should also be noted that back then American players going North to play Junior hockey north of the 49th was also a rarity, if not a totally absent occurrence. But now, American players in the NHL, and those with NCAA playing experience makeup about a full one third of the leagues rosters. This is remarkable. When I was a youngster I witnessed the final years of the original six and saw the first expansion. I have been keenly aware of this transition and how long and slow it has taken to unfold. Having followed NCAA hockey just as long, I have also noted the influence of Canadian players upon college rosters over the years. With the first collegiate Championship taking place in 1948, the University of Michigan won 6 of their 9 titles by 1956 with rosters heavily influenced by Canadian players. They have won only 3 since.

By the time I began to follow University of Minnesota hockey around the mid-sixties, they had already moved to a Minnesota players only stance, kicked off by the late, great Big John Mariucci. There is the odd out-of-state player there now, but not too many ever get on to that roster. I can tell you that for years the University of North Dakota featured mainly Canadians and Minnesotans. (yeah I know, ND is a sparsely populated place) Even the local University of Minnesota-Duluth team featured heavily dominated Canadian rosters at different times in it’s history, and I have to say that I am very happy to see Coach Scott Sandelin putting a strong emphasis on in-State Minnesotan players on the team now. I like that very much. The University of Denver won 5 of it’s 8 National titles by 1969 with basically Canadian rosters. One of my favorites? Former Black Hawk Lou Angotti of course.

What got under my craw for years was in just trying to be an American and go over the border and get a roster spot or coaching gig. Good luck on that. But post Miracle on Ice the transition started to take place. Americans by and large still aren’t prominent in Canadian hockey but their presence here has been lessened to a degree as well. Of course, there is no shortage of qualified players there, so what do you do?

This debate has gone on for years though, and a conversation at the recent NHL Entry Draft got me thinking about it again. When Eden Prairie player Casey Middlestadt was drafted 8th by the Buffalo Sabres, a Canadian hockey analyst began to talk about how long it might take him to get to the NHL if he only played collegiate hockey. (signed by the Gophers) This person was decrying how little big game “experience” he was going to get playing only 35-40 games per year. He went on to say that this player didn’t make his top ten list, and that he will need to play at least two years of college hockey and at least one AHL season before he could consider making to the NHL. He went on and on about how many more “meaningful” games he could play going the Junior route and so on. Big Casey didn’t wow at the NHL Combine either, unable to do a pull-up or get past one rep on the bench press.

However, he has probably got top three hands as far as draftees go this year, so damn the pull-ups and presses. So, if you were boiling this down to a volume of game competition debate, which is better? The Scandinavian model is famous for lack of game volume, some of the North American model is famous for games played. The Swedes and Finns don’t seem to have a problem not playing tons of games and produce high level talent year after year. Canadian Junior hockey has players as young as 15 and 16 leaving home to go into a sometimes harsh environment. CJH features an NHL rules proto type. That means your 16 year old fresh faced kid can be getting punched in the face by a 19 or 20 year old player while playing a 68 game regular season schedule. NCAA hockey does not allow fighting. Fight and it’s an auto game out. NCAA hockey competes mainly on weekends in the Midwest and West with some week night tilts out East. Division One NCAA Hockey has a 90% graduation rate. With Pro hockey jobs still limited in scope, that’s a built in comfort feature for parents trying to decide between the two.

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Registration Now Open – June 21st to 24th, 2018 – Male and Female Divisions

At the end of the day it’s an easy decision for me. I love the school atmosphere, the lesser games played puts an emphasis on practice, weight training and skill development during the week with two very intense games each weekend while working toward a well rounded education topped off with a degree that could serve a young man or woman quite well the rest of their life. The Junior format can put a few into the Pro’s, make the team owners quite a chunk of change while leaving some players on the outside looking in with nothing to fall back on at the end of the ride. Am I biased? Yes I am, and honest enough to say so. Let me end on this; could the NCAA model eventually put more players into the NHL then the CJH route? Hmmmmm… PEACE

 

Posted in CHL, NCAA, NHL, Uncategorized

College Hockey Has a Talent Glut, but Nowhere to Grow

“There isn’t the growth in college hockey we’d all like to see,” said Bob Fallen, the commissioner of the United States Hockey League, the only Tier 1 junior hockey league in the country. “I’m not sure what’s going to be the next trigger.”

Fallen’s league has been a major feeder system for college hockey. About a third of N.C.A.A. Division I hockey players spent at least one season in the U.S.H.L. The league has added teams in recent years and grown more attractive to Europeans, creating even more Division I-caliber players.

According to U.S.A. Hockey, the number of registered hockey players increased 24 percent in the past 15 years, to 543,000 in 2016, after growing 125 percent from 1991 to 2001. Credit the Gretzky effect, in which youth hockey took hold first in Southern California after Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988, then throughout the Sun Belt as the N.H.L. added or relocated teams in Phoenix, Dallas, Tampa, Fla., and South Florida over the next decade. There have been spikes in participation in the Bay Area and St. Louis, which produced five first-round picks in the 2016 N.H.L. draft.

More college teams also are recruiting in Europe, and when they are not, online services that have become available in the past decade allow coaches to watch games and track players from Europe and North America via their computers, by using different programs to analyze data, like quick books, that is easy to learn to use with different quickbooks consultants.

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Air Force forward Tyler Ledford moving the puck against Arizona State, a second-year Division I team, in October. Credit Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire, via Associated Press

“Good players have a tendency to get found now,” Minnesota State Coach Mike Hastings said.

According to College Hockey Inc., a record 82 Europeans played in Division I this season. There were only 32 five years ago. Twenty-two Europeans are on teams in the N.C.A.A. tournament, which begins Friday. Top-seeded Denver is led in scoring by Henrik Borgstrom, a freshman forward from Finland. Penn State’s Denis Smirnov, a Russian, led all freshmen in points this season, with 45.

The impact of well-developed players is evident throughout the sport. Of the 23 members of this year’s gold medal-winning American team at the world junior championships, 19 were current college players, representing 11 universities. Another 13 college players or recruits played on other teams in the tournament. Last season, 30 percent of N.H.L. players were college products. Already 32 collegians from last season have made their N.H.L. debuts in 2016-17.

N.H.L. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly is a member of The Campus Effect, a partnership with U.S.A. Hockey and College Hockey Inc. to promote paths to college hockey.

“The quality and depth that can be recruited to Division I has never been deeper,” he said.

Daly added that the league was working with member clubs on ways to promote growth in college hockey. Thus far, he said, “We’ve only scratched the surface.”

For players for whom there is no room in Division I, there are other avenues to college hockey.

“The real beneficiary is Division III,” American International College Coach Eric Lang said. “There are about 40 to 50 players who spill over into D-III who are D-I players.” (Division II is a minor player with only one 15-member conference.)

Also benefiting is the American Collegiate Hockey Association, which encompasses more than 250 club teams in three divisions. Penn State and Arizona State won national championships in the A.C.H.A.’s top division before ascending to Division I, and a number of other schools have perennially strong teams.

“We can truthfully say our top teams can compete with the top third of N.C.A.A. Division III teams,” said Chico Adrahtas, the coach of Robert Morris-Illinois, a club hockey power.

A.C.H.A. teams offer players a longer season and a chance to attend colleges in Power 5 conferences.

Arizona State Coach Greg Powers, who led the Sun Devils to the national title in 2014 in their next-to-last season in the A.C.H.A, said, “There are a lot of pretty good players who want the big-school experience, so they’ll go to places like Iowa State, Illinois and Oklahoma.”

Though there are a limited number of roster spots in Division I, Powers said the current climate helped the prospective player “because there are so many good programs.”

As evidence, four of the past six N.C.A.A. champions were first-time winners. Only half of the 16-team field of last year’s N.C.A.A. tournament returned for this year’s tournament, and no conference tournament champion repeated in 2017. More than half of all Division I teams (34) have reached the N.C.A.A. tournament in the last five years.

This season has demonstrated how, as Penn State Coach Guy Gadowsky said, “the gap gets closer and closer” between teams at the top and the bottom of Division I.

On Jan. 13, the top three teams in the USCHO.com poll all lost, including then-No. 2 Harvard 4-0 to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which entered the game 3-19-1. Of the top 20 teams in the Jan. 16 poll, only six avoided a loss or tie in the following week, and No. 1 Boston University lost its two games to a Hockey East colleague, Merrimack, which had won only two league games at the time.

“That’s not going to happen in college football,” Bemidji State Coach Tom Serratore said. “The No. 100 team isn’t going to beat Alabama or Ohio State.”

Yet it is almost expected in college hockey, said Hastings of Minnesota State.

“In football, baseball and basketball, you don’t see the No. 1, 2 or 3 teams beaten by somebody in the bottom half,” he said. “That happens every weekend in our sport.”

The biggest obstacle to adding teams is money. Penn State moved to Division I only after an alumnus, the Buffalo Sabres and Bills owner Terry Pegula, donated $102 million to build an ice arena and fund scholarships. The catalyst for Arizona State, which still plays most of its home games at an off-campus rink, was two donations totaling $32 million.

The Atlantic Hockey conference has been seeking to expand beyond its 11 teams for a couple of years, negotiating with two teams in the A.C.H.A. Commissioner Bob DeGregorio said the earliest it could expand would be the 2018-19 season.

Because of Title IX, the federal law mandating nondiscriminatory funding at educational institutions, adding scholarships for a men’s sport requires a comparable increase for women’s sports. Most Division I hockey programs provide the 18 maximum allowable scholarships.

U.S.A. Hockey’s executive director, Dave Ogrean, cited the economics of hockey as the primary impediment to expansion.

“Obviously, it costs a lot of money,” he said. “That’s why you’re never going to have an explosion in the number of programs.”

For now, college hockey will have to settle for an explosion of players.

Posted in Academics, NCAA

Men’s Hockey Leads NCAA’s APR Again

Hockey student-athletes’ success in classroom highlighted in annual report.

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The academic success of NCAA Division I men’s hockey players continues to set the standard across college sports, with hockey leading all men’s sports with at least 50 teams in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) for the fourth straight year.

Men’s hockey’s four-year average APR score of 986 from 2012-16 is five points above the NCAA average and edged golf (984) and tennis (981) among Division I sports with at least 50 teams nationwide. Men’s hockey’s single-year APR score for 2015-16 of 984 also led all men’s sports with 50 or more programs.

The APR, created in 2003 to measure Division I schools and teams on their student-athletes’ success in the classroom, awards points to teams based on students’ grades, their progress toward their degree and for staying in school. Teams are also rewarded in the APR for students who return to school to complete their degree.

The APR is related – but not identical – to the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate (GSR), serving in a way as a predictor of GSR success. Men’s hockey’s 92% graduation rate for student-athletes who enrolled in 2009 is among the highest figures of all men’s sports.

The calculation of APR also rewards teams when former student-athletes return to school to complete their degree. In the past year players like Torey Krug (Michigan State) and Chris Kreider (Boston College) have completed their undergraduate degrees despite leaving school early to play in the NHL.

Not only is hockey excelling on average as a whole, but each of the individual teams has demonstrated success. Across all sports, APR scores below 930 are subject to penalties, but no men’s hockey teams are within 20 points of that threshold.

Six teams – Colgate, Dartmouth, Merrimack, Minnesota, Robert Morris and Yale – had perfect four-year average APR scores of 1,000. More than 77 percent of all teams (46 of 59) had four-year APR scores of at least 980 and more than half (31 of 59) have scores of at least 989.

 

Posted in Academics, NCAA, Options

Tucker Poolman becomes first from EGF to play in NHL

By Brad Elliott Schlossman on Oct 9, 2017 at 8:02 p.m.

Sep 27, 2017; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets defenseman Tucker Poolman (3) controls the puck during the third period at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 27, 2017; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets defenseman Tucker Poolman (3) controls the puck during the third period at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tucker Poolman texted his father, Mark, late Monday afternoon to tell him the news: He was going to make his NHL debut with the Winnipeg Jets in a couple of hours.

Mark responded: “Work hard, have fun.”

It was the only thing to say.

“It’s the same thing I said to him every day since peewees and squirts,” Mark said. “Why would I change now?”

Poolman became the first hockey player from East Grand Forks to play in the NHL on Monday night when he suited up for the Jets in Edmonton against the Oilers.

Mark wasn’t able to make it to Edmonton, because Tucker got the call last minute, filling in for the injured Dustin Byfuglien of Roseau, Minn.

Instead, Mark quickly ordered the NHL’s Central Ice package and invited some family members over to watch and he started reminiscing.

“That’s the big thing,” Mark said. “Just thinking back.”

It’s been quite a story for the Poolmans.

At age 18, Tucker graduated from East Grand Forks Senior High with zero college scholarship offers. No United States Hockey League teams were interested, either.

Tucker drove from city to city trying out for North American Hockey League teams, and he was continually released.

“He has persevered more than any player I’ve ever seen, playing or coaching,” said former Senior High coach Tyler Palmiscno, who recalled Tucker being a 5-foot-4, 130-pound forward as a sophomore. “I know when those teams were releasing him, it was hard for junior hockey teams, because they saw the potential, but coaches and organizations need to win now. A lot of times, they don’t get players the opportunity to show their potential. It took one coach with the right mindset.”

Tucker and Mark drove to Chicago to try out for the Wichita Falls Wildcats, an NAHL team in Texas. On the drive, they agreed that if Tucker didn’t earn a spot on the Wildcats, he would just enroll at UND as a student.

Tucker had already applied to UND and received his acceptance letter.

But the Wildcats put Tucker on the roster, starting a rapid six-year ascent that would lead to the NHL.

In 2011-12, he was with Wichita Falls. The next year, he was drafted by Omaha, went to the USHL and earned a scholarship to UND. The following year, he was a captain in Omaha and was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in the fifth round.

In 2014-15, he started at UND. As a sophomore he won an NCAA national championship and as a junior, he was a first-team All-American.

Now, he’s an NHLer.

“It goes back to the fact that he believed in himself,” said UND coach Brad Berry, who frequently used Tucker during the run to the 2016 NCAA national title. “He has a strong family background as far as teaching that if you work your hardest, things will take care of themselves. He was a guy who stayed with the process. In this day in age, a lot of people and players would say, ‘Well, I’m going to try something else.’ He stayed with it.”

Before sitting down to watch the game, Mark said that he would inevitably be nervous, but hoping that Tucker doesn’t feel the same.

“I’m just excited for him and hope things go well,” Mark said. “Hopefully, he’s not as nervous as he was for his first (UND) game against Manitoba. He couldn’t feel his legs that first game when he got out there.”

In East Grand Forks, Poolman had a big fan club following Monday’s game.

“It just goes to show you, all you need is one coach to buy into you and you can take it from there,” Palmiscno said. “Tucker’s always been so mentally smart and tough. It took his body longer to mature than a lot of people, but he was strong enough to stay with it until his body matured.”

 

 

NCAA Hockey 101: Who will be the nation’s best goalie?

By Ryan Lambert

Denver goalie Tanner Jaillet is in a strong position to win the Mike Richer Award. (Getty)

At the highest levels of hockey, you either find success with your goaltending or you don’t find it at all. Teams don’t win the Stanley Cup without a goalie who’s playing well above average.

That’s true in college hockey as well, because if you don’t have at least a .920 goaltender, you’re probably not going to get very far. Save percentage is usually the single biggest determiner of winning percentage, which should come as no surprise to anyone who’s watched this sport for more than 15 minutes, but in college hockey that’s often overlooked when a team has a large win total.

Case in point: Late last week, this year’s “watch list” for the Mike Richter Award, given annually to the best goalie in college hockey, was released. Most of the names on it made sense: Good goalies who played well last year (albeit sometimes in limited roles) who you might therefore reasonably expect will do it again this year. Two others were totally out of left field, based on nothing but the win total of their teams.

The list had exactly zero freshmen on it, which is fair because these kids are unknown quantities and the odds that freshmen do what Jake Oettinger did last year (.927 overall, .932 at 5-on-5) are typically quite small.

Of the 20 guys listed, there were maybe only five or six guys for whom you could say he was more likely than not to follow up last year’s performance with a similarly strong effort this season.

Chief among these is Denver’s Tanner Jaillet, who gets the benefit of playing behind probably the best team and who had the best 5-on-5 save percentage in the group, as well as the fifth-best overall number. You combine his quality, which he has proven over multiple years and not just one, with his team’s obvious quality, and you have to figure he’s the favorite to take down the Richter in much the same way Denver is the favorite to win another national title. That is to say, the odds he does it aren’t exactly overwhelming (i.e. “gimme the field”) but he would need to screw up to let someone else really open the door.

The guy with the best chance to upset him, though, is probably BU’s Jake Oettinger, a Dallas first-round pick who went .927/.932 in his draft year for a strong Terrier club. Oettinger is now a year older and better, and looked good in BU’s two games so far — both of which were against nationally ranked teams — so at this point there’s no reason to think last year was any sort of fluke.

At this point, I have five guys as being the likely finalists for the award, highlighted here (with the save percentages here obviously being from last season, and the red dotted lines denote the national averages in these two stats):

(The two goalies who made this watch list based on nothing but their win totals should be obvious: Cam Johnson and Peyton Jones were both sub-average goalies who had 20 and 23 wins, respectively.)

You see Jaillet and Oettinger in there — and you’d like to see Oettinger get that 5-on-5 number a little higher — but the other guys are all worth discussing as well, for different reasons.

Michael Bitzer is clearly The Guy in Bemidji for another season, and given the quality of both that team (fine) and his own stats (great) he’s likely to get points based on his overall value to the club. Being in a weaker league isn’t going to help him in the long run unless he absolutely goes off for the next five months, but we have no reason to suspect he won’t get huge minutes and turn in another elite performance.

Kyle Hayton is fascinating not just because he’s been a top-flight goaltender for his entire college career, but also because he transferred for his senior season (he’ll be a grad student at Wisconsin) and enters not just a new team, but a whole new conference. The Big Ten isn’t exactly known as a goaltending league and if he can provide any sort of performance at or around what he’s done in his career, he’s going to have a bonkers win total to go with gaudy stats. If that happens, he’ll win the Richter in a walk because you won’t be able to argue with 25-plus wins and a save percentage in the .930s. Worth noting, though, that he’s only .891 with a pair of wins to start the season.

Merrick Madsen at Harvard is another strong candidate here, and with Harvard’s elite defensive unit returning, could be well-positioned to turn in yet another strong season. The only real point of concern is that the Crimson lost so much up front that it might be harder for Madsen to pick up all the wins he might need to really wow voters, but if the numbers hold up, that thinned-out offense might be a benefit; it could convince people he was the real reason Harvard succeeded this season.

Draft Watch List Released

Nearly 100 current or future NCAA players highlighted in NHL Central Scouting rankings.

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First-round NHL Draft prospect Quinn Hughes made his Michigan debut in an exhibition win on Saturday.

 

Two current freshmen – Michigan’s Quinn Hughes (Orlando, Fla./U.S. NTDP) and Boston University’s Brady Tkachuk (St. Louis, Mo./U.S. NTDP) – headline a list of 97 current and future NCAA players featured in NHL Central Scouting’s Players to Watch list for the 2018 NHL Draft.

Sortable: NCAA Players to Watch for 2018 NHL Draft

Nearly half of all Division I programs had a player or recruit featured on the list, with 29 schools represented. Denver and Wisconsin each had seven commits featured to lead all schools, followed by Michigan (six), Boston College (five) and Minnesota (five).

Twenty-one of the prospects on the list have not committed to a school but are playing in an NCAA-eligible junior or high school league.

Hughes and Tkachuk lead a group of five current NCAA freshmen on the list. They are joined by Michigan’s Michael Pastujov (Bradenton, Fla./U.S. NTDP), Michigan State’s Tommy Miller (W. Bloomfield, Mich./U.S. NTDP) and Minnesota’s Nate Knoepke (Farmington, Minn./U.S. NTDP), all in their second year of NHL Draft eligibility.

The recruits included in the Players to Watch list represent seven junior leagues and numerous high schools and prep schools. Forty-nine current USHL players are among those featured.

 

“The best of two worlds”

 

BY SZYMON SZEMBERG

Reprinted from 2012

 

For Swede Stålberg, college hockey proved to be the right thing

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN - MAY 11: preliminary round action at the 2012 IIHF World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN – MAY 11: preliminary round action at the 2012 IIHF World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)

 

Unusual Swedes: While most Swedes in the NHL came through professional hockey in their home country, Viktor Stålberg (left) made it through NCAA collegiate hockey and Gabriel Landeskog (right) through Canadian junior hockey. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images

 

ZURICH – From U.S. college to the NHL and the World Championship – that’s a route not normally taken by European players. Chicago Blackhawks’ Swedish forward Viktor Stålberg is one of the very few. “For me college was getting the best from two worlds,” says Stålberg to IIHF.com.

The most successful European players who have become NHL and international stars have gone the traditional way of developing at home and taking the step to the NHL when ready. There are 31 Europeans in the NHL who have played 1,000 or more NHL games and only one of them (Slovakia’s Zdeno Chara) played in the Canadian junior leagues before going to the NHL. And Chara played all in all 49 games in the CHL.

Developing your skill at a NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) has never been a route of preference for Europeans and there are many reasons for it. One would be the very strict amateur rules. You don’t make a penny and before you enroll you may not play even one single exhibition game on European professional level without risking forfeiting your college eligibility. Many European talents are tested on their pro teams at 17 or 18.

And there are of course academic requirements. You need to handle the language English very well, you need to pass tests and once school starts you need to commit to studying, passing exams parallel to hockey.

But this is the traditional way for most American players and also quite many Canadians. And the number of players in the National Hockey League who went to college and developed there prior to embarking on a pro career either in North America or Europe is increasing basically every year.

During the 2011-12 season, 30.5 percent of all NHL players came from college. That’s 301 players to be exact and over the last ten years the number of collegians in the NHL has grown by almost 35 percent.

Viktor Stålberg took this route, mainly because he saw this as the best remaining option as his career didn’t go in the direction of a Mats Sundin, a Peter Forsberg or a Henrik Zetterberg.

After finally having an impressive junior season with Frölunda Gothenburg at 19, Viktor Stålberg was drafted by Toronto in spring of 2006 and that autumn he left for the University of Vermont.

After three college years, he signed with the Leafs but after a good rookie season which was split between the NHL and AHL, Stålberg was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. Last season, his second in Chicago, the winger had a career-high 22 goals and 21 assists in 79 games and was selected to the Swedish national team for the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Sweden and Finland.

A national team rookie at 25, Stålberg had three goals and one assist in eight championship games. IIHF.com caught with Viktor in his home town Gothenburg where he played for Frölunda during the NHL-lockout (before signing with KHL Atlant Mytishi in mid-November).

The number of former college players in the NHL and also in Europe is pretty impressive.

 

Do you feel that college hockey isn’t given enough credit for developing so many good players?

Yes, maybe by the average hockey fan, but not by those inside the hockey community. Most of them know that this is a good development path. For Canadians, junior hockey will always be the main road to a pro career, but in Europe very few know about the opportunities presented by college hockey.

Maybe it’s because many of the best players in the NHL either come from Canadian junior or from the European system, while many players who came out of college play lesser roles on their pro teams.

Well, how about this: Four out of six players on the Olympic All-Star Team in Vancouver 2010 were former collegians (Ryan Miller, Brian Rafalski, Jonathan Toews, Zach Parise, editor’s note). That’s the best of the best.

Yes, (laugh), maybe even me who played college probably underestimate the quality of development you get in college. Toews and Parise are two of the hottest players in the NHL today. Another teammate of mine in Chicago, Patrick Sharp, a very good scorer, also played at University of Vermont. For me, college was the perfect way to go.

 

Why was college hockey the best fit for you?

College is the only place where you can combine high-quality hockey training and world class academic education and where the system allows you to devote time to both. There are no such opportunities in Europe, at least. And this is what I realized I wanted to do when I was 18-19.

 

Give us an idea how you found out about NCAA, which for many European juniors very seldom is an option.

Long story, I try to give the short version. I was a late bloomer. I didn’t develop as fast as many of my teammates and I was pretty small. I was never a star on the under-16 or under-18 level and was never invited to any junior national team camps. At 18, I was not welcome at Frölunda anymore and I wasn’t accepted at their high-school hockey program. So I had to go to another, smaller club in the Gothenburg area.

During this period some of my teammates went to the U.S. to play division III college hockey where you maybe can get a part of your education paid with a scholarship. So I had pretty much made up my mind that I would also like to try that as my career wasn’t really going anywhere. But when I was 19, I grew and improved and was invited back to Frölunda and I had a great season with their under-20 team. I even got to practise with their pro team and was invited to the junior national team.

(The athletic programs of division III colleges are of considerably lower quality than division I, as by NCAA regulations they “shall not award financial aid to any student on the basis of athletic leadership, ability, participation or performance”. Editor’s note)

 

So how did you find your way to the University of Vermont, one of the best division I programs, after you had made up your mind to enroll at division III?

During this 2005-06 break-out season (53 points in 41 junior games) I started to get offers from top colleges and Vermont flew me over to see their facilities and to talk about my plans. I liked what I saw and around Christmas that season had made up my mind to go to Vermont. When scouts got to know that I had decided to play college, I got calls from other division I colleges, but for me Vermont was the only real option.

Things went so well at Frölunda that they wanted me to play games with the pro team, but I declined because I didn’t want to lose my college eligibility. If I had played one game with Frölunda’s pro team I would have lost NCAA eligibility.

 

Going to college in the U.S. is not something you just do. You must be academically inclined, I guess.

I was good in school and I was always serious about so I knew I had the ability to cope with the academic part of going to college. But yes, you need to cope with the language and you need to pass your tests. To be fully honest, if you are good in sports it helps you to get in, but you still need to show that you take school seriously. Language was a challenge in the beginning, but Swedes in general are pretty good in English.

 

What is the best thing about playing college hockey?

Not many players make it all the way to pro, but those who don’t get an education and a diploma which can secure your future and this combination is probably the overall best thing about playing college hockey. It gives the best of both worlds.

If you have a full scholarship, your education, food and housing is being taken care of. One year’s tuition at a school like Vermont costs $40,000. I took business administration, finance. I managed to balance hockey and school pretty well. I passed my exams.

 

What about the hockey part?

You practise a lot, both on and off the ice. One and a half hour’s ice practice is followed by one hour in the weight room, three times week. You work on your fundamentals and your strength. You play games Friday and Saturday. The quality of hockey is good. The road trips are not too long, so you don’t spend so much time on buses. And all the facilities are top class.

 

What is the biggest difference comparing to Sweden?

Probably the more competitive mentality, especially from the coaching staff. In Sweden you can sometimes get away with things, and not being criticized. I remember in my first year at Vermont, I made a turn-over and the other team scored the winning goal and the coach gave it to me in front of the whole team.

 

A full college program is four years. You left after three. Why?

I felt that I had no challenges left on that level and I would not develop had I stayed there. I felt I was ready for the next step.

 

What are your thoughts about one day finishing the last year to get that diploma?

I keep that door open. I feel it’s not something I must do. I still think I would be able to get a decent job after hockey without that diploma. I thought that I would be able to set aside time to this during the summers in Sweden, but it’s not easy when you get used to doing certain things during off season. Let’s see how it works out. It would have been nice to have that diploma, but there is no pressure.

 

How did you adapt to the NHL coming straight out of college?

Not many players manage to take that step immediately. For me it was almost too good to be true. Here I am, a rookie from Vermont, being introduced prior to Toronto’s home opener at the Air Canada Centre against Montreal. But it was still a big step. Players are stronger, faster and you play so many more games in the NHL. That was maybe the biggest adjustment from college, playing all those games.

 

At 25, you played your first games for the Swedish national team at the IIHF World Championship on home ice in Stockholm. How was that?

Very special. For most players the World Championship is a stepping stone to the NHL. For me it was the other way around. I am happy how I performed, despite that I hadn’t played on a big rink for 6-7 years. But obviously things could have gone better for our team. Losing in the quarterfinal was not what we wanted.

 

One and a half year left to the Sochi Olympics.

The Olympics is probably the biggest thing you can take part in as an athlete, so it would be a dream to be selected. At the same time Sweden produces so many good players right now, the pool is so deep and the competition for the spots will be fierce. There is nothing more I can do than playing as well as I can to make the team.

 

Footnote: Viktor’s four year younger brother, Sebastian, also played three years at the University of Vermont (2009-2012) before signing as free-agent with the San Jose Sharks in March 2012.