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Strong Enjoying Freshman Season

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
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by Brian Bileski
March 2, 2006

(TORONTO) -- Imagine one year finishing your high school diploma and thinking that your hockey career is over only to find yourself playing in the Okanogan Valley for a British Columbia Hockey League team the next. 
Dean Strong hopes to follow path of former Vermont players to NHL.
(Vermont Catamounts)

How about then accepting a scholarship to one of the best hockey programs in NCAA hockey?  That's the simple lifestory of Mississauga native and University of Vermont Catamount freshman Dean Strong. 

Head coach Kevin Snedden said about the young skater, "Dean has been fabulous for us as a freshman...sees a ton of ice, and plays in all situations...a great player and an even better person." 

Brian Bileski went one on one with the forward only days before Leafs TV airs the Hockey East showdown between the University of Vermont and Umass-Lowell. The game can be seen Sunday March 5, at 3:30 p.m. exlusively on Leafs TV. 

Brian:  Last year you had a chance to live in the beautiful rocky mountains while playing for the Vernon Vipers.  How did you go from high school in Port Credit to playing in the Rocky Mountain interior?

Dean: After high school I was ready to wrap up my hockey career as there was no chance to play junior in Ontario.  I didn't even know there was a BCHL or teams out west but a friend of mine played for Vernon.  I talked to the coach and two weeks later I was taking a plane out there and getting ready to play.  Vermont heard about me and came out to see me.  I think I was injured at the time but they decided to sign me just because of what they heard I offered.  I really wanted to go to Vermont so I kept calling and calling the coach just so I could get in.

Brian: So what's your lifestyle like living in Burlington - home of the University of Vermont?

Dean:  So far I hardly know anything about the town.  The university is awesome, it's totally laid back.  There are mountains here which I love and bring me back to last year (in Vernon).  I really love it here.  Burlington is small, it's great.

Brian: I've heard that Vermont fans are pretty loud and love their teams.  What's the atmosphere like come game day?

Dean:  Our fans are amazing.  Actually they got in trouble for being too rowdy.  During games the student section is off the wall.  I guess they were yelling profanities at the other team and that didn't go over too well.  They're so supportive and sometimes they make the difference in games.  I love playing in front of them.

Brian:  A lot of people don't know this but the reigning NHL MVP Martin St. Louis graduated from Vermont before doing his thing in the big leagues.  What's it like knowing he played there?

Dean: It's pretty cool.  Vermont never seemed big but he put them on the map especially after winning the MVP last year.  It's cool.

Brian: You guys were ranked pretty high this year but have kind of slipped, what's the story?

Dean:  We were ranked as high as number two in the nation but fell off lately.  Our team is great and there's no doubt we're one of the best teams in the nation.  We played Boston University twice this past weekend and tied them both times.  We are definitely a top team in our league.

Brian: With the run to the Frozen Four right around the corner what does your club have to do to go deep in the tourney?

Dean: We can't lose any more games.  We need to beat UMASS this weekend in both games.  The game is on national television and hopefully everybody will be watching.  If we win people will gives us the recognition we deserve. 

Brian:  What team out there are you most nervous about facing as you make the run to the Frozen Four?

Dean:  I would say Boston College because we play great hockey against them but we haven't come away with a victory.  We know we can beat them and it will be great getting a 'W' beside our name. The teams in the WCHA haven't looked all that good.  We beat Alaska and Michigan Tech even though they aren't the best teams in the conference.  We played Dartmouth in the ECAC and they were pretty good.

Brian:  What are your goals for improving your game over the next few years at Vermont?

Dean: Winning a national championship would be great and being a big part of it.  I want to contribute at both the offensive and defensive ends of the ice.  There are a lot of things I have to improve on.  I need to improve my shooting skills, skating and that stuff.  I have a really great hockey mind but I need to develop a lot more skill in order to take my game to the next level.

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