ABBOTSFORD, British Columbia -- Vincent Trochek didn't need any extra motivation heading into his first year as a professional hockey player.
Coming off a monster season as the top scorer and most outstanding player in the Ontario Hockey League, Trochek had already changed workout habits, adding pounds and dropping body fat to prepare for the jump from junior. But the 20-year-old Florida Panthers prospect admits to an additional boost watching good friend, fellow Pittsburgh native and former minor hockey and junior teammate Brandon Saad celebrate winning the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks.
"It brought tears to my eyes," Trochek told NHL.com. "To see a close friend lifting the Stanley Cup and know it's a dream of yours growing up, a dream of his, it really gets the adrenaline going. And then going to his Stanley Cup party, seeing how awesome it was and how great he was feeling about it, it definitely gives you extra motivation."
As one of three Pittsburgh natives that helped the United States win gold at the 2013 World Junior Championship, Trochek doesn't have to look far for more motivation. J.T. Miller is playing for the New York Rangers, and goalie John Gibson backstopped the Americans to bronze at the 2013 World Championship, was invited to the 2014 U.S. Olympic team orientation camp, and was recently named the American Hockey League's goalie of the month in October.
Trochek, who played with Miller, Gibson and Saad in the Pittsburgh Hornets youth program and with Saad for two more years in the OHL, is also quickly making a name for himself in the AHL. The young center leads the San Antonio Rampage, and is fifth among rookies, with six goals and 12 points in his first 13 pro games.
"He is driving our offensive charge," Rampage coach Peter Horachek told NHL.com shortly before promoted to replace Kevin Dineen as Florida's coach. "He has that special ability where the puck just kind of follows him and stays with him. Many times I see him skating into areas where I think he's in trouble and he comes out with the puck. He's got great poise and presence with the puck, he's smart, he can make a play obviously, and he can score goals too."
None of that should be a surprise from Trochek, who was picked 64th in the 2011 NHL Draft by the Panthers. He followed that up with 29 goals and 85 points in 65 games for Saginaw in 2011-12 before scoring 50 goals and an OHL-leading 109 points while splitting 63 games between Saginaw and the Plymouth Whalers last season.
Trochek finished the regular season on a 21-game point streak and added another 10 goals and 24 points in 15 playoff games before the Whalers were eliminated in the OHL Western Conference Final.
Scoring has never been a problem.
Horachek cited Trochek's vision, hockey IQ and decision making for putting him on the point of the power play, and said he was the team's best faceoff man, both rarities for a first-year pro. The coach was also impressed when his 5-foot-10 playmaking center dropped the gloves with 6-2 Texas Stars forward Brock Montgomery, who had 29 fights in junior hockey, after seeing a teammate hit from behind.
"He cares about his teammates," Horachek said. "He cares about winning and losing. He doesn't just care about his own points."
That shows up in extra work to make sure his defensive game is at an NHL level. Trochek is third on the Rampage at plus-5.
"He wants to be the best player, he wants the puck, he wants to be on the ice, he knows it's in his best interest to improve in those areas and he is doing it," Horachek said. "He pays attention in video, he pays attention in meetings and he asks questions. He's a smart kid, and when you have smarts and competitiveness and hockey sense built in, that's a really good combination."
Trochek knew skill and hockey sense wouldn't be enough to get him to the NHL, so last summer he began training at Evolution Sports Institution with Cole Haley, who has worked with players from the Pittsburgh Penguins, Steelers and Pirates. Trochek started at 178 pounds, finished at 193 and lost four percent body fat.
"You need to go that extra mile because everybody else is," he said.
Trochek takes a similar approach to his defense, quickly changing the focus from offense when asked to talk about his strengths, pointing to the systems work the team does "three or four days" each week.
"Pounding it into your brain until it's just a habit," Trochek said.
Off the ice, the transition to the professional life has been made easier by Rampage goalie Michael Houser, who is also from the Pittsburgh area and moved to Detroit to play for the famed Little Caesars program. Coming from a big Italian family also helps because it meant Trochek always had to fend for himself in the kitchen, so taking care of his own meals now isn't a problem.
"They cook the Italian food and I had to make my own diet of chicken and rice and stuff," Trochek said. "I can't eat from the family table."
Roommate Houser has also eased the adjustment.
"We go everywhere together," Trochek said. "It helps to adjust, just getting to team functions and not having to worry about knowing anybody, not sitting in the corner. It's a comfort level."
Trochek has certainly looked comfortable on the ice in the AHL, which has many wondering how long before he's in the NHL, a question that will increase now that his coach is there.
"I don't want to see him rushed, but he's chomping," Horachek said. "He's going to play in the NHL, it's just a matter of when."
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