For those of us looking to satisfy our hockey withdrawal during the NHL lockout, the All-American Prospects Game last Saturday did not disappoint. Fast-paced and hard-hitting, I almost forgot I wasn’t sitting at an actual NHL game.
It’s hard to believe that the players are only a year or two older than me.
Just as an ordinary teenager would have to balance a part-time job with school, the top 40 American prospects who took part in last weekend’s game at First Niagara Center don’t catch any breaks. Many of the players are still high school age and have to get through five hours or more of schoolwork, coupled with training and games.
“You [have] just got to stay on top of both,” said 17-year-old Cole Cassels, a forward for Team McClanahan, which won 5-2. “Game days you have to be ready for a test next Monday.”
Tyler Motte, the 17-year-old Team Housley forward from St. Clair, Mich., also recognizes the importance of keeping up with academics despite a busy sports life.
“Academics always come first,” said Tyler, the son of two teachers. “It’s hard, but it’s got to be done.”
School isn’t the only thing they have to worry about, though. A lot of players hoping to make it big have to make sacrifices to improve their game, such as moving away from home and giving up a lot of time and energy to the sport.
Cole, who made the move last year from Columbus, Ohio, to Oshawa, Ont., to pursue his career, isn’t unlike many other elite hockey players. It often becomes necessary for a player to move far from home to seize opportunities, and this can be a stressful time.
However, with technology as advanced as it is, separation with family and friends has become more bearable. “I still keep in touch … there’s Facebook and Skype and everything,” Cole said.
Still another thing to keep in mind is the fact that the players have to look and act professional. They can’t be obnoxious and goof off in public places like some teenagers do. With a lot of people keeping tabs on them, it’s important to be mature.
This can be one of the tougher parts of being a rising star.
“There’s always somebody watching you,” said Cole. “It doesn’t matter where you are; you just have to be professional about it.”
“There’s a lot of attention drawn to you, but I think it’s more fun; you should enjoy it more than worry about it,” said Tyler.
At the heart of it all, the most significant detail is that the players enjoy what they do. Hard work and dedication paid off for the 40 prospects participating in the All-American game who had an opportunity to play with the best in the nation and show off their skills to the 150 or so scouts in attendance, as well as eager fans.
“It’s unbelievable, playing with 40 of the best players born in the U.S.,” said Tyler. “It’s an honor to be here.”
“I take a lot of pride in being invited here,” Cole said.
At the end of the day, the top 40 prospects in America really are like any other teenager. They go to school, hang out with friends and play their sport.
There’s just a little added pressure.
Sarah Probst is a junior at Clarence High School.