By Matt Mackinder
Growing up in the Detroit suburb of Rochester Hills, Ian Dvorak had heard bits and pieces about the North American 3 Hockey League (then known as the Central States Hockey League), but only knew what co-workers and league alumni had told him.
He doesn’t have to ask around any more.
As a rookie goaltender with the Michigan Mountain Cats, the 17-year-old has been eased into the lineup thus far, but hopes with his work ethic and skill that he’ll earn more time down the line.
And have more to tell youngsters asking him about the league.
“It’s been an experience so far,” Dvorak said. “Making the jump from Midget AAA to juniors is a big jump and it’s different, but I think I am making the adjustments I need and think I’ve played pretty well so far. I’ve been playing the game I’ve always played and that’s battling for every puck and never quitting.”
After playing the 2011-12 season for the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies’ program, Dvorak was invited to the Mountain Cats’ tryout camp over the summer and wound up signing with the team while still at camp.
He said in his first few months in the NA3HL that his original perception of the league has spun a 180.
“This is a very competitive league, a very fast league, and it surprised me right out of the gate,” Dvorak said. “The guys here are obviously older and stronger than what I was facing in AAA, but it’s very competitive and I know a lot of players here have moved on to higher levels of hockey the past few years.”
Playing in the ultra-competitive East Division, the Mountain Cats currently sit in sixth place, but Dvorak said they are certainly not playing like a sixth-place team.
“The East is tough,” said Dvorak. “Any team can beat anyone on any given night. We beat Flint earlier in the season and we know we can keep up with them and Cleveland, who we play this weekend at home. Cleveland and Flint might be at the top right now, but any team, really, could wind up being the top team in our division.”
Having a head coach in Chad Grills, someone with many years of professional playing experience, is another perk to playing for the Mountain Cats, according to Dvorak.
“Chad is so easy to talk to and he’s been through the process of junior hockey, so he knows what we’re all going through,” Dvorak explained. “He’s a good guy to go to for advice on pretty much anything.”
With the midway point of the season not far off, Dvorak has his eyes on fulfilling his pre-season outlook.
“I always hold myself and my teams to high expectations,” said Dvorak. “I want to earn the No. 1 goalie spot and win every time I’m in net. As a team, I want to get some more wins on the board and see how far we can go in the playoffs.
“At the end of the season, I’d like to see if I can earn a spot with a North American Hockey League team and maybe go up there for a year or two and then, my dream has always been to work for a Division I college hockey opportunity. If I can keep my composure and we can perform as a team, I see great things ahead for everyone.”