When a player’s junior career is on the cusp of ending or even taking an upward change, more times than not, a player obviously wants to continue playing the only game he’s ever known.
Options are aplenty, but which one is the best fit?
Three Toledo Cherokee skaters are facing that dilemma right now as the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) regular season has about a dozen or so games left until the Hurster Cup playoffs.
Forwards Joe Breslin, Stephen Howard and Cameron Rossman are all looking ahead to next year. Breslin is still 18 years old, while Howard and Rossman are both 20.
All three are realistic when they take a gaze into the future.
“Next season, I hope to play in the NAHL and continue with juniors,” said Breslin. “If that doesn't work out, then I will go to college, either Ohio University, Bowling Green, or a smaller school, and try to play club hockey.”
“I’m not really sure what I’m doing next year, to be honest,” Howard added. “I need to talk to my parents and figure things out. I’m currently at a community college and finding what fits my education has a lot to do with it.”
Rossman played a handful of NAHL games earlier in the season with the New Mexico Mustangs and saw firsthand the difference in levels between the NAHL and NA3HL.
“Basically, the Mustangs saw me play in the summer at their open camp and then (Toledo head) coach (Scott) Syring contacted them in October and arranged the chance for me,” explained Rossman. “It was a good experience and the players were noticeably stronger. The players on New Mexico worked out in the weight room hardcore. Overall, the league was a little bit faster and had better puck movement.
“It definitely was a confidence boost for me. I think it forced me to think and do things a little faster and I think it helped improve my game.”
Next season, expect Rossman to be playing college hockey someplace.
“I’m setting my sights on playing Division III hockey and am currently researching and contacting colleges,” noted Rossman. “I have a lot of passion for the game and definitely want to continue playing. If nothing works out in Division III, a walk-on tryout or club hockey is always an option. My dream is to eventually play minor professional hockey.”
So how does one really assess all the choices in hopes of making the right choice?
“Making a decision like that is very tough,” Breslin said. “I went through it last year trying to decide whether to just go to college or play juniors, so I've been through it before. Hockey has always been a big part in my life and I don't know what I'd do without it.”
“My parents and I had a meeting with coach Syring to discuss realistic options,” Rossman said. “Scott gave us a lot on insight about how college hockey works. I’m writing an introduction letter and player profile. I also have been attending a community college the last two years to improve my GPA.”
Away from the hustle and bustle that can be stressful, the Cherokee currently sits in sixth place in the NA3HL standings with eyes on making the climb skyward.
“Our season has been filled with ups and downs,” said Breslin. “At the beginning of the season, we were on a roll and then lately, we dropped down in the standings. We are trying to re-establish our confidence and get back on the right track before playoffs. I think we will have a great finish if we work hard. Our coaches have been trying to switch things up to get our confidence back and I think eventually, it will all come together.”
Howard, a Toledo native, said it’s been great and playing in front of friends and family and now wants to get some more notches in the win column.
“We’re playing pretty well, but we can’t seem to hold on to a lead,” said Howard. “The scores of games aren’t indicative of how well we’ve actually played. We just need to continue to work hard at practice and games and hopefully work our way up.”
Rossman said that with a young team, many of the players came from Midget hockey or high school hockey. Making the jump to Junior A can be tough at first - and perhaps it was for some of his Cherokee teammates - but he sees the team heading in the right direction.
“We had a very fast start, but the rest of the league has seemed to catch up to us,” Rossman explained. “Scott and (assistant coach Chris Tarsha) have done a great job teaching and holding the team together. They try to make everybody feel like an important part of the team. Now we need to stay focused and gear up our intensity for a strong run in the playoffs.”
Breslin has some lofty goals for the next few months, but feels that with confidence and string play, they won’t seem so lofty if accomplished.
“My expectations for the rest of the year are to win the playoffs because I think we will get hot down the stretch and come through,” Breslin said. “Our goal the whole season has been to win the playoffs and go to nationals.
“We've been in a slump lately, but our goal is not lost yet by any means.”
BATTLE CREEK JR. REVOLUTION: Adam Hammond has four points (two goals, two assists) over his last three games. Brett Menton and Jay Aldrich are also the only two players to skate in all 35 games this season.
CHICAGO HITMEN: Nine players had multi-point games in Chicago’s 9-2 win over Battle Creek last Saturday.
CLEVELAND JR. LUMBERJACKS: Matt Zaremba recorded two goals and two assists in Cleveland’s 6-1 win over first place St. Louis last Sunday. Zaremba started the year in the NAHL with the Traverse City North Stars.
FLINT JR. GENERALS: Goalie Peter Emery signed with Flint last week and played both games at home against Queen City, earning a win in his debut Saturday night with a 21-save outing. He then made 35 saves Sunday afternoon in a 4-2 loss.
METRO JETS: Eric Trunick has won three of his last five starts between the pipes.
MICHIGAN MOUNTAIN CATS: In his last seven games, Adam Lewis has scored eight goals.
PEORIA MUSTANGS: Kyle Hamilton notched his 20th goal of the season last Sunday and has recorded seven points (three goals, four assists) over his last three games, all wins for Peoria.
PITTSBURGH JR. PENGUINS: Top scorer Jayson Angus picked up his first two penalty minutes of the season last Saturday night when he was called for hooking in the second period against Toledo.
QUAD CITY JR. FLAMES: Kyle Vesling has five goals in his last five games.
QUEEN CITY STEAM: Goalie Matt Leon leads the league with 14 victories, is fifth in goals-against average (2.76) and third in save percentage (.925).
ST. LOUIS JR. BLUES: Patrick Gregory, who began the season with the NAHL’s Michigan Warriors, returned to St. Louis last weekend and had a goal and an assist in his season debut Saturday night.
TOLEDO CHEROKEE: James Steele scored twice and added an assist in two games last weekend at Pittsburgh.
EX-JR. LUMBERJACK CHOOSES ARMY
Maurice Alvarez, who manned the blue line for Cleveland during the 2008-09 season, has committed to attend the West Point Military Academy and will also play hockey for Army (Atlantic Hockey) starting this fall.
For the past two seasons, Alvarez has played for the Pembroke Lumber Kings of the Central Junior Hockey League.
After a recent visit to West Point earlier this month, Alvarez decided to play for the Black Knights.
At West Point, Alvarez will join three other former Jr. Lumberjacks including his brother, Marcel, a junior defenseman and assistant captain, freshman forward Brian Schultz, and incoming freshman Zak Zaremba.
LEAGUE ALUMS NAMED NAHL TOP PROSPECTS
Nine former NA3HL players were named to play in the annual NAHL Top Prospects Tournament next month in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Defensemen Ryan Trenz (St. Louis Jr. Blues/Michigan Warriors) and Alex Brooks (Grand Rapids Jr. Owls/Janesville Jets), forward R.J. Kleiman (Grand Rapids Jr. Owls/Motor City Metal Jackets) and goaltender David Jacobson (Quad City Jr. Flames/Janesville) were named to Team North; forwards Brent Bain (Toledo Cherokee/Alexandria Blizzard) and Louie Educate (Chicago Force/Aberdeen Wings) were named to Team Central; forward Adam Chapie (Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks/New Mexico Mustangs) cracked the roster for Team South; and defenseman Hunter Brown (Dubuque Thunderbirds/Wenatchee Wild) and forward Austin Cihak (Chicago Force/Chicago Hitmen) are on Team West.