Special to AnaheimDucks.com
OTTAWA – For Ducks prospect Eric Tangradi, this was his best Christmas ever.
Most people don’t like spending holidays away from home for the first time. Not Tangradi, who was surrounded by family and friends in Ottawa at the World Junior Championships.
Skating for Team USA for the first time was just one of the many gifts he received for the holidays. Just three weeks before the tournament, Tangradi signed an entry-level contract with the Ducks. This summer, he was named captain of the Belleville Bulls (OHL).
“Between the World Juniors and my first NHL contract, you can’t really do any better than that for being 19 years old,” Tangradi said. “This was definitely my best Christmas.”
When Tangradi puts into focus the fact that just three years ago he was traveling the Philadelphia minor hockey circuit in relative anonymity, it all seems a bit surreal.
“It is a dream come true,” Tangradi, said. “I try to never look ahead, but if you had asked me ‘in three years, do you think you will be in Ottawa?’ I would say ‘Ottawa? What is that? Are you kidding?’ It has all been unbelievable.”
Four consecutive quantum leaps have taken Tangradi, a Philadelphia native, from a big fish on a small hockey pond to a big fish skating on the biggest pond in the world. Belleville took a chance on Tangradi with a sixth round pick in 2005 after noticing him in a tournament with his Philadelphia Jr. Flyers midget team.
|“These are the best players in the world, not just one or two leagues," said Tangradi (second from right). "Other than winning a Stanley Cup or the Olympics, it is probably the most memorable thing that I will experience in my career. I am just blown away by this whole experience.” |
When Belleville finally came calling after a year of prep school seasoning, it was the professional NHL-type lifestyle that lured Tangradi to forfeit his NCAA eligibility to play in the OHL.
“Everything about playing in the OHL is professional,” Tangradi said. “You have the chance to solely concentrate on hockey. At first, it was a different world for me. Belleville has just 40,000 people. Philadelphia has millions. It can catch you off guard. But I don’t regret not going to [college] at all. I have still gotten an education in Belleville, and it is all about playing in a professional environment at a young age.”
It didn’t take long for scouts around the NHL to notice Tangradi’s hulking 6-foot-4 frame. A left winger, Tangradi plays a physical brand of hockey but can also score. Just one 20-point rookie season was proof for the Ducks that Tangradi was a valuable commodity. They made him their second selection in the 2007 draft.
While it has been quite a ride to Ottawa, it hasn’t come without some adversity.
Just a year earlier, Tangradi was snubbed from the Team USA roster despite a great season in the OHL. Throughout USA Hockey, there can be a tendency to ignore players in the Major Junior ranks and focus on players in the NCAA. Rather than let it deter him, Tangradi worked even harder to earn a spot on the roster.
“I guess that it is one of those things where I just didn’t fit into their plans,” Tangradi said. “Not making it helped me for sure. Any time that you are cut from a team, you can only build and get stronger.”
Tangradi, now Belleville’s captain in his third season, is tied for fourth in OHL scoring with 49 points in 34 games. He has blossomed into one of the OHL’s most recognizable faces.
In the Philadelphia area, Tangradi and Ducks rookie Bobby Ryan grew up just 30 minutes away from each other and honed their game at the same rinks. Though they had known each other in name only previously, Tangradi flew out to Anaheim with Ryan for a Ducks prospect camp last year and said there is a lot he can learn from another local kid and OHL product.
“It was unbelievable. Every day, waking up I got to throw on a USA t-shirt or a USA sweat suit and I can’t believe it. It is just a great honor and thrill to be able to do that." - Eric Tangradi
“He was drafted second overall, so he has been through a lot mentally and physically,” Tangradi said. “The media has been really hard on him, but he believes in himself. He is always positive and he is always working. He never gives up.”
Though it was a disappointing finish for the United States in the tournament – they finished in fifth place on Sunday – representing his country, on foreign soil no less, is something special for Tangradi.
“It was unbelievable,” said Tangradi, who scored the USA’s first goal on Sunday, his only goal of the tournament. “Every day, waking up I got to throw on a USA t-shirt or a USA sweat suit and I can’t believe it. It is just a great honor and thrill to be able to do that.
“These are the best players in the world, not just one or two leagues. Other than winning a Stanley Cup or the Olympics, it is probably the most memorable thing that I will experience in my career. I am just blown away by this whole experience.”
For Tangradi, the ultimate captain, he isn’t looking ahead to his professional opportunities once he ages out of juniors after this season.
“I have my mindset on Belleville [after the tournament], to be completely honest,” he said. “I’m really hoping we can make a big run in the second half of the season.”
Whether he ends up in Iowa or Anaheim, Tangradi will be ready.
“It doesn’t really matter to me where I go,” Tangradi said. “I know that there is still work to be done. I will go wherever they tell me and just play my game. I couldn’t be more excited.”