LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Nicolas Kerdiles certainly has come a long way in the past year.
It was about a year ago, the Anaheim Ducks prospect said -- during the 2012 USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp -- that he learned of an inquiry by the NCAA into his amateur status. The resulting suspension nearly forced him to leave what he called his "dream" hockey situation, and submarined his collegiate hockey career before it even started.
"So many little things went on," he told NHL.com. "I don't understand still what exactly it was. At this point I'm over it and I'm just looking forward to having a fresh start this year."
Choosing hockey right path for CoppBy Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
If you look in the high-school record books for the state of Michigan, you'll find Andrew Copp's name right at the top. READ MORE ›
In October 2012, the NCAA announced Kerdiles would be suspended for the entire 2012-13 season for violating the group's amateurism rules, because of an issue with payment for the hotel Kerdiles and his family stayed at during the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh.
Kerdiles and his family reserved a room at a hotel near the Pittsburgh airport, but were offered a chance to stay at a hotel closer to Consol Energy Center, where a block of rooms had been booked by Pulver Sports, which serves as the Kerdiles family's advisor. The Kerdiles family paid Pulver Sports for the cost of the hotel room, but the NCAA ruled Kerdiles had received an extra benefit based on his athletic status, and the result was a season-long suspension from Wisconsin before he even had the chance to pull on a Badgers jersey.
Kerdiles and Wisconsin appealed the suspension, but there was no way of knowing how the case would go. All he knew for sure, though, was that sitting out an entire season was not something that could happen.
"When you're looking at a year suspension, it's 100 percent for me to leave [Wisconsin] because I can't miss a year of hockey," he said.
Kerdiles certainly had options, with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League the best one. However, he readily says Wisconsin was the only place he wanted to be.
"I visited many different schools," he said. "Michigan, Denver, Minnesota, [but Wisconsin] was my dream school."
Kerdiles and Wisconsin won their appeal -- sort of. Kerdiles' suspension was cut from 100 percent of the season to 30 percent, meaning he had to sit out 10 games. Knowing that he would be able to play most of the season made it easy for Kerdiles to stay right where he wanted to be.
"I was happy," he said. "You've got to make the best out of it. It originally was a year, so when we got it down to 10 games I was really happy about it because I wanted to stay at Wisconsin. I couldn't miss a year, so I knew if we didn't get it down I'd probably have to leave. It was good news. I love Wisconsin so it worked out so far."
Kerdiles used his extended offseason the best he could, spending extra time in the weight room to build what's become a 6-foot-1, 192-pound frame.
His decision to staying in school certainly impressed his future employers.
"He didn't let [the suspension] get him down, didn't let that bother him," Ducks director of player development Todd Marchant told NHL.com. "Once he came off the suspension, he took off."
In 32 games, he finished second on the team with 22 assists and 33 points, and capped his season by helping the Badgers win the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship and earning the WCHA Tournament's most valuable player award.
"He finished with a great season at Wisconsin," Marchant said. "… For him to step his game up when it counted the most is a trait that teams love to have and they love to see that, so you know when it comes to crunch time in the playoffs, you need players to step up. Nic Kerdiles did that this year. We have high expectations for him."
Kerdiles also has high expectations for this season. He said he's been working on improving the defensive side of his game to become a better two-way player. He hopes it's enough to impress Don Lucia, coach of the United States team that will go to Malmo, Sweden, for the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.
In three games at the national junior evaluation camp this week, he has three assists in three games and has been part of arguably the Americans' best line, playing left wing alongside center Daniel O'Regan and right wing Riley Barber.
"He's a guy that can play a lot of different roles for us," Lucia said. "Hopefully he's a guy that's going to put some pucks in the net this winter and come into our camp in December with a lot of confidence."
As rival teams in the new Big Ten conference, Lucia, who also coaches the University of Minnesota team, will get a chance to see Kerdiles up close when the teams meet Nov. 29-30 in Minneapolis.
It's a game, and an opportunity, Kerdiles already has circled on his calendar.
"I try to play every game like it's my last game and play the best I can," he said. "It's going to be fun to play against Don."