Fans and media tend to eat up stories of highly touted prospects and early draft selections that turn pro quickly and contribute immediately. Often, less talked about are the players that take a longer, less conventional route, to pulling on their first National Hockey League jersey.
The road less touted, but more traveled, suited Islanders defenseman Mark Streit
quite well. Just like John Tavares
, the first overall selection in 2009, and Nino Niederreiter
, the fifth overall pick in 2010, Streit began his professional career at 17-years-old. But he wasn’t drafted and his career didn’t start in the NHL.
“I was a late bloomer,” Streit said, who stands at 5’11 and 202-pounds. “On top of that, a lot of scouts thought I was too small to play in the NHL, but I always wanted to become a pro hockey player. I had nothing else on my mind.”
Streit’s passion for the game dates back to his first pair of skates.
|Mark Streit #2 of the New York Islanders skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 11, 2010 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. Penguins defeated the Ilsnaders 6-5 in overtime. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images) |
“I got my first pair of skates at four and two years later, I joined my hometown team, SC Bern,” Streit said. “My best friend in grade one played hockey for them and he asked me if I liked to play as well. I fell in love with hockey right away.”
After a rather impressive junior career with SC Bern and later with HC Fribourg, Streit decided to pursue his professional dreams by remaining in his native Switzerland. He made his professional debut during the 1995-96 season with Fribourg-Gottéron of the Swiss Ice Hockey Association, playing 34 games and earning a pair of goals and assists for four points.
Once his first season ended, Streit was traded to Davos Sport, where he would complete three more seasons in Switzerland before a brief stint in North America (1999-2000).
“Playing that first year in North America was motivating,” Streit said. “My goal was to make the NHL and playing in the lower leagues, you see the tough things you need to go through like the long bus rides and the different things that go along with playing. I appreciate everything that goes with the NHL that much more.”
Forty-three games for the Springfield Falcons (AHL), 14 games for the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks (ECHL) and one game for the Utah Grizzlies (IHL) later, Streit returned to Switzerland where he remained with the Zurich Lions for the next four seasons. While he was in North America, he learned a lot about the different style of hockey and how he’d need to improve if he wanted to reach his NHL dream.
Playing that first year in North America was motivating. My goal was to make the NHL and playing in the lower leagues, you see the tough things you need to go through like the long bus rides and the different things that go along with playing. I appreciate everything that goes with the NHL that much more. - Mark Streit
“Swiss hockey is pretty good and it came a long way,” Streit said. “But the NHL is the best league in the world. The biggest difference is the bigger ice rink. North American hockey is faster, more intense and more physical. Swiss hockey is more of a skating game. There is so much more room on the ice. A lot of players are very skilled and great skaters.”
Still holding on to his dream of playing in the NHL, Streit became a leader amongst Swiss defensemen, earning spots on nearly every international tournament team, playing in two World Junior Championships, eight World Championships, one Olympics and two Olympic qualifiers.
In 2004, at age 26, Streit finally got his opportunity to break into the NHL. He was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the ninth round (262 overall) of the Entry Draft, but due to the lockout, he returned to Zurich, Switzerland for a fifth season. Streit would not make his NHL debut until he turned 27, ten years after making his professional debut.
“It was tough to establish myself in the NHL with Montreal,” Streit said. “There is a huge amount of pressure, but they were patient with me and gave me time to learn. I especially learned a lot from other players like Saku Koivu or Andrei Markov, both on and off the ice.”
In his three-year stint, Streit played 205 games for the Canadiens, scoring 25 goals and 84 assists for 109 points. The defenseman improved his offensive output by more than triple from year one to year two and then by almost double from year two to year three, when he posted a career-high 62 points.
Streit became a free agent after his third NHL season and Islanders General Manager Garth Snow took a chance, signing Streit to a five-year contract at the start of the 2008-09 season.
Streit was grateful for the opportunity.
|Mark Streit #2 of the New York Islanders shoots the puck against Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 14, 2010 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) |
“Garth and the Islanders organization gave me the opportunity to play as a full-time defenseman,” Streit said. “That’s what has made me the player I am today. It’s all about getting a chance and playing with a lot confidence. I got that feeling from Garth and the Islanders.”
Since joining the Isles, Streit has established himself as a leader and the team’s top defenseman, putting up some of the team’s highest point totals and leading the team in time on ice in each of his first two seasons. Catching the eyes of fans and players throughout the league, Streit was selected to the 2009 All-Star Game.
“That was such a big honor and a dream come true,” Streit said. “But at the end of the day, I want to accomplish something unforgettable with the Islanders. And everybody knows what that is.”
Streit’s bid for a Stanley Cup was put on hold in 2010-11, when a serious shoulder injury suffered in training camp left him sidelined for the entire season.
But after watching young talent like Andrew MacDonald
and Travis Hamonic
step into prominent roles on the Islanders blueline, showing they can hold their own against opposing team’s top lines, Streit can barely wait before he’s back on the ice.
“It was exciting to see guys like Andrew and Travis play such a big roles with the team last year,” Streit said. “To sit out the entire season and watch was terrible and I can’t wait to get the season going because we have a lot of talent.”
Doctors and team trainers indicate that Streit will be 100 percent by training camp next month.