The road less travelled to the NHL

The road to the NHL can vary from one player to the next. Most Canadians will choose the shorter route, opting to go from high school directly to Canadian Junior Hockey. However, a new trend is forming in the NHL as many aspiring players are deciding to attend American universities beforehand. For the Habs’ Yann Danis, the choice to pursue higher education took precedence.

“Hockey has always been important, but school is important, too. I wanted to have a backup plan so I decided to try out college so that if hockey didn’t work out I’d have something to fall back on,” Danis said.

Several NHL stars have come out of the US College program and that number is increasing. Paul Kariya, Martin St. Louis, Dany Heatley, John LeClair, Joe Mullen and others have come from NCAA schools to play in the NHL. Although most of the players who come from the NCAA are American, Danis, Kariya, St. Louis and Heatley are Canadian and up-and-coming superstars who were on the Gold-medal winning Canadian Junior team, Andrew Cogliano, and Jonathan Toews go to the University of Michigan and University of North Dakota respectively.

Danis, who received a degree in business economics, exemplifies the term ‘late bloomer’ to a tee. He was drafted late in the annual QMJHL draft and went undrafted in the NHL draft. His hard work and great play was enough to get a contract from the Montreal Canadiens near the end of his last year at Brown University. In his last year, 2003-2004, Danis made the NCAA East All-American team and won the ECAC Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year awards and made the 1st All-Star team. Danis went straight to the Hamilton Bulldogs where his stock rose to the point where he became the starter in Hamilton during the lockout season last year and was able to battle for the backup job to Jose Theodore and got his first NHL action this season and became one of a select group to earn a shutout in his first NHL game, against the Atlanta Thrashers.

“I don’t think that [not getting drafted] took pressure away. At least I didn’t look at it that way. Yes, I had my education to fall back on, but I was still concentrating on hockey and trying to help my team win,” he said. Danis also said that life as a student athlete helped him mature.

“Playing in college helped me mature more than if I had gone to Junior. I got to college I was 19 and I had spent four years there and it helped me mature off the ice but also on the ice. We don’t play as many games, so we had the opportunity to practice a lot and train a lot and work on things I wouldn’t have been able to fine tune as much in Junior.”

Danis also had the opportunity to watch his former teammate at Brown, Brian Eklund, make his NHL debut at the Bell Centre on November 8 for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Eklund was drafted in the seventh round by the Lightning in 2000.

At 24, Danis doesn’t have to think about life after hockey right now, but he does admit his degree will make it easier. “It helps to know that I’ll have something to do, but right now number one is still hockey,” he said with a smile.

Related Posts