A version of the following story appeared in the 2017-18 first edition of AVALANCHE, the official game magazine of the Colorado Avalanche Hockey Club. For more feature stories, purchase a copy of the magazine during Avs home games at Pepsi Center. All proceeds from game-magazine sales support youth hockey associations in Colorado.
It was anxious anticipation in the Leivermann household.
Nick Leivermann and his family were watching the 2017 NHL Draft on television in his home in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, knowing that there was a chance that he could be picked by a club. The defenseman had spoken with several NHL teams during the previous season and was rated in NHL Central Scouting's prospect rankings, but he still wasn't sure if he would hear his name called.
It was getting late in the draft as the seventh round had just begun, and the Colorado Avalanche was on the clock with the 187th overall selection.
"There was a pretty big storm in Minnesota that day so our TV kept cutting in and out and that was our No. 1 source to find out if I was going to be picked or not. All we heard was 'from Eden Prairie, Minnesota,' and the TV cut out instantly," Leivermann recalls. "I was scared, my heart kind of dropped for a second because was it going to be me or someone else."
He soon learned that it was his name that was announced when some of his friends started sending him congratulation texts a few minutes later.
"It was a pretty surreal moment," Leivermann said. "My mom got all emotional, hugged me, cried, so it was an awesome moment to be a part of. I'm excited to be a part of this organization."
Leivermann was in Colorado two days later to take part in the team's development camp, and it was an eye-opening experience for the then 18-year-old.
He quickly learned that the NHL is the best league in the world for a reason.
"Definitely that you have to be more in shape than you are and you think at all times," Leivermann said at the conclusion of the team's week-long prospect camp. "Overall, it is about being professional and be as respectful and mature as you can. It's been a nice learning experience."
At the June camp, Leivermann and rest the club's prospects skated with the Avs' development staff, worked out with the team's strength and conditioning coaches and received the detailed attention that the pros get during the regular season.
It also became a motivating factor in the Minnesota-born blueliner's training for the remainder of the summer.
"Everyone at this level and college, and I'm obviously coming out of high school, is a little bit stronger than I am," he said. "For the next two months before I head off, it's going to be strictly working out every day and building body strength and body muscle."
Leivermann had played in nine games at the American junior level in the United States Hockey League, but it was his time in high school that mattered the most to him.
He played four years with the Eden Prairie High School Eagles in Minnesota and co-captained the squad his senior season.
High school hockey's popularity in Minnesota is the equivalent to high school football in Texas, and the state finals at the Minnesota Wild's home arena, Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, are always packed to the brim with fans.
"Some people from other states may not understand how great high school hockey is in Minnesota, but when you grow up in an association, your dream is to win a state championship for them and in your high school career," says Leivermann.
"If you make it [to the championship], it is an unbelievable event. When you have 20,000 people watching you when you're a senior in high school, it can be pretty nerve-wracking, but at the same time it is something that you dream of. That's the goal when you're in fourth grade, playing for Eden Prairie and to make it in that moment."
He was close to winning that elusive title, but the Eagles lost in the championship game during his junior season and fell in the semifinals last year.
"Unfortunately, I didn't take a full advantage of that and win one, but I would not change one moment and I would not leave early or anything like that. I would tell the younger kids in my hometown to stay and live out the dream," says Leivermann. "Growing up with the same kids and playing with them since you were in fourth grade is something special."
Leivermann is playing this year in Canada's Jr. A British Columbia Hockey League for the Penticton Vees--the same team that the Avalanche's Tyson Jost starred for. Then it is off to college where Leivermann has committed to play for the University of Notre Dame beginning in 2018-19.
With him going the college hockey route, it gives Colorado some time to work with him and further develop his skills.
"He is an offensive guy at the high school level," said Avalanche director of amateur scouting Alan Hepple. "Does his game have to mature? Yes, it does, but I think he has some of the parts that we're looking for in a seventh-round pick. Down the road, maybe he is the guy that is the surprise in the draft."
He'll use his time at Penticton and Notre Dame to get stronger, learn the game better and get a college degree. After that, Leivermann said he hopes to be back in Denver competing for an NHL roster spot.
"If I have the opportunity to play in the NHL, I'm going to take full advantage of it," says Leivermann.
The dream of a state title may be over, but the one to someday play in the National Hockey League is just beginning.