USA Hockey Magazine

March 2015

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have the ability to train as much as in college hockey. So you can hit that window that allows you to get stronger, faster and do all those things that help you reach the next level." For many of today's NHL players rely on speed and skat- ing more than size, the physical development they experienced during their time in college has been critical to their success as a professional. "I needed to get stronger," says the Minnesota Wild's speedy forward Jason Zucker, who chose the University of Denver when he was 18. "I needed to take a few years and develop. And for me it was developing as a person as well, overall getting more mental maturity and play- ing with a great coach. Having the rigors of class and practice and all that makes you mentally tougher, and I was able to work out two or three times a week and get stronger." While he left college after two seasons to sign with the Wild, Zucker notes that he's well on the way to a college degree, and plans to finish it at some point. "I was a major in psychology and that really interests me – the whole mental aspect of sports and life in general – so I can defi- nitely see myself going back," said the Las Vegas native. "I got most of my core classes done by the end of my sophomore year, so when I go back I'll be able to focus on the good stuff." That's a common refrain as well, with NHL stars like Backes, Florida Panthers for- ward Nick Bjugstad (University of Minnesota) and Vancouver Canucks goalie Ryan Miller (Michigan State University) having completed their college degrees already. (See story, Page 23.) And they also got the expe- rience of being part of some- thing bigger. "There's something very special about playing for your school," says Backes, the St. Louis Blues captain. The Minneapolis native p l a y e d t h r e e s e a s o n s a t Minnesota State, and after the final home game of his junior season the Mavericks fans gave him a standing ovation, chant- ing "One more year! One more year!" in hopes that he'd stick around for another campaign in southern Minnesota. "Knowing it's something that's been there long before you, and knowing it's something that will be there long after you've moved on, and you're playing a role in building the organization," he said. "That's something I'm very prideful of from my time in col- lege hockey." In his four years at Wisconsin, Rob Andringa earned not only a degree in political science, but also a national champion- ship ring and a network of con- nections that helped him to a successful post-hockey career as a wealth management pro- fessional. He works for and alongside three of his Badgers teammates, when he's not head- ing to a college rink somewhere to broadcast weekend games for the Big Ten Network. Andringa values the educa- tion he received and the lasting friendships he made as much as the on-ice success. "There are lots of unique communities that bond you together, making connections with guys you may have played with or against. You don't realize it at the time, but it's an impor- tant part of who you become when hockey is done," Andringa says while prepping to broad- cast an outdoor doubleheader at Soldier Field in Chicago featur- ing Miami (Ohio) vs. Western Michigan and Michigan vs. Michigan State. "College athletics is some- thing that can't be duplicated. It's not generated or manufac- tured. The whole atmosphere is amazing." Some still feel that it's an "either/or" proposition – that an 18-year-old has to choose athletic development or aca- demic growth on their road to what all hope will be a long and rewarding hockey career. The message from college hockey advocates is that on campus, you can do it all. "We call it the total pack- age," Larson says. "Look at the number of players that are going from college hockey to the NHL. In the old days you would have to pick an academic path or a pro path. Now you can have both and accomplish the same goal." 1 Jess Myers is a freelance writer and youth hockey volunteer in Inver Grove Heights, Minn. USAHOCKEYMAGAZINE.COM MARCH. 2015 19 "GOING TO COLLEGE, YOU GET MORE TIME TO DEVELOP AND GET STRONGER." — ZACH REDMOND, FORMER FERRIS STATE BULLDOG NOW WITH THE COLORADO AVALANCHE 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 300 280 260 240 220 200 (ALL-TIME HIGH) 305 NCAA ALUMNI IN THE NHL 25% 28 % 23% 31% 31% of all NHL players are NCAA alums The rate has steadily increased from 23% in 2004 NATIONALLY TELEVISED GAMES ANNUALLY 150 30 Games at NHL venues Alums make up of NHL players 31% NCAA IN NHL

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