has been thinking about this opportunity ever since he inked an entry-level deal with the Avalanche on March 27.
For the past five months, the former University of Minnesota power forward has had his sights set on Colorado’s rookie camp, just itching for a chance to display his skill set to the Avalanche’s coaches and staff.
Now, the opportunity is here, and Stoa is ready to meet the challenge head on.
“It basically marks the beginning of my pro career,” said Stoa. “I’m definitely excited to have an opportunity to make the team, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Stoa actually had one year of NCAA eligibility remaining (he was granted a medical redshirt after missing nearly the entire 2007-08 season with a knee injury), but elected to turn pro following the 2008-09 season.
That year was spent mostly in the training room and the gym, but Stoa says it was far from a lost season. Being forced off the ice allowed him to gain a new perspective about just how much the game of hockey meant to him. Even though he wasn’t on the ice with his teammates, he made efforts to remain a leader for a young Minnesota squad by taking on a role that could be loosely categorized as a student assistant coach.
While his teammates were practicing, he was nearby doing rehab and offering encouragement and advice in the locker room whenever he could. While the situation wasn’t easy or ideal, Stoa made the best out of it and received a new outlook on his career.
“So much of this game is mental toughness,” said Stoa. “If things aren’t going well, then somehow you’ve got to get through it. I think that experience will definitely help me in the long run.”
If the year away from the ice helped him gain perspective, coming back and playing well as a junior in 2008-09 was the gratifying payoff.
Serving as the Gophers’ captain, Stoa notched 46 points (24g/22a) in 36 games and ranked third in the nation in goals-per-game (0.67), sixth in points-per-game (1.28) and became the first Gopher to capture the WCHA scoring title in over a decade by tallying 36 points (19g/17a) in 27 conference games.
“Whenever you can put the puck in the net and contribute in that way it helps to build your confidence,” said Stoa. “The players I was playing with definitely helped too.”
Any athlete coming off a serious injury will attest that they are usually somewhat tentative when returning to game action. That feeling of uncertainty is especially common with a knee injury. Making quick cuts or taking contact can be a bit scary at first, but Stoa said that wasn’t the case with his injury.
“When you get out there in practice it’s a little different, but once you start playing games you totally forget about it,” said Stoa. “We had our first exhibition game and I didn’t even think about it. Afterwards it was a little sore, but you just throw some ice on it. If I was playing basketball or kicking a soccer ball around I was really tentative, but it was totally different on the ice.”
One look at his early season statistics will tell you Stoa wasn’t joking about the knee not being an issue. The forward opened the 2008-09 campaign with an 11-game point streak, totaling 10 goals and nine assists during that time before finally being held off the scoresheet in a Nov. 22 contest at the University of Denver.
That success was no illusion, as he would go on to earn All-American honors from the American Hockey Coaches Association, Inside College Hockey and College Hockey News at season’s end.
Since the completion of his collegiate career, Stoa has remained busy throughout the summer by training and also playing a little hockey to stay in shape. And whenever he’s found some free time, he’s been getting out on some of Minnesota’s numerous lakes. An avid fisherman, Stoa says he’s had a number of decent catches this summer, including a 48-inch Muskie he reeled in one week before coming to Denver for development camp in July.
Fun and games aside, Stoa’s demeanor turns serious when asked about his personal goal for the upcoming season.
“The goal is to be here in the NHL, and I’d like to do whatever it takes to get here.”