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Biega tops among college defensemen

by John McGourty
Defenseman Danny Biega, one of three brothers who skated for the Harvard ice hockey team this past season, is No. 46 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2010 Entry Draft, June 25-26 in Los Angeles.

His spot on the final list is 15 spots lower than the midseason rankings, released in January. There doesn't seem to be a good reason for his drop, as he had an excellent freshman season, with 5 goals and 8 points in 30 games. He was healthy, he was strong and he skates well -- so well, in fact, he is the highest-ranked collegiate defenseman in this year's draft.

Biega's story is simple: He had some important advantages and he worked hard to make the most of them. He grew up in a house on Montreal's Lac St. Louis and his father, Peter, would construct a rink in the backyard every winter. His brother Alex, three years older, and brother Michael, two years older, caught the hockey bug before Danny.

"Every winter my dad would make a rink in our back yard just because the lake wouldn't freeze completely during certain times," Biega said. "We started off in the back yard. Dad put a lot of time into watering the rink and other stuff. Then as we got a little older and it got a little colder in Montreal, we started moving toward the lake.

"The lake is really awesome. If it rains for one or two days, the next day you come out and it's really cold and you can skate for miles. You can take slap shots from one city to another -- literally. The puck just keeps going and just rolling. It was great because a lot of our friends lived on the lake, too. So you'd see one or two friends and they'd come out and you could have just a huge pick-up game. It was a great atmosphere to grow up in."

Then, there were the workouts. Once Alex got the NHL dream in his head, he dragged along his brothers.

"Alex put in so much work, it just kind of had a snowball effect," Danny said. "Everyone started following. With Mike, then me, then pretty soon all four of us were training together. You know, one guy does 12 chin-ups, then the next guy's got to do 13 and 14 and it kept going up like that. One's got to do more than the other, so pretty soon we had three- or four-hour workouts. We're trying to gain the advantage over our brothers. That helped us out from a competitive standpoint. You know, just getting more, gaining a little more than our competitors."

Biega is solidly built at 6-feet, 191 pounds, and all those hours spent working out were obvious at the NHL Scouting Combine, where he proved to be one of the strongest prospects in this year's draft class. He owned the strongest grip in his draft class, measuring in at 185 pounds with his right hand, 176 with his left. He did a best-in-class 20 repetitions with 150 pounds at the bench press, and his push/pull strength was better than anyone else's -- he registered 329 pounds of push strength, and 308 pounds of pull strength.

If you think those numbers are just stats, ask Philadelphia's Chris Pronger how hard it was to push and pull Chicago's Dustin Byfuglien from in front of the Flyers' net during the Stanley Cup Final. Biega also had the second-longest standing long jump -- a nice measure of leg strength -- with 114.5 inches, just 1.5 inches behind the first-place finisher, Sudbury Wolves center John McFarland.

Beside his strength being a strength, his top-notch skating ability was obvious to the scouts.

"Danny is a strong skater with very quick feet," Central Scouting's Gary Eggleston said. "His turns and puck retrieval are excellent. He gets to the puck quickly and makes a play before the first forechecker gets there. His passes are accurate and delivered with authority. He makes a sure first pass to the forward's stick or uses a quick pass off the boards to a breaking forward.

"His decision-making is very good. He wins the battles in the corners and can deliver a solid hit in close quarters or in open ice. Danny possesses a very quick wrist shot from the point, which he gets through to the net for rebounds or tip-in attempts."

Peg and Peter Biega put an emphasis on academics and stressed the importance of a college degree. When Alex approached the age for junior hockey, his parents searched out New England prep schools and liked what they found at the Salisbury School in Connecticut. The family's youngest son, Marc, is there now.

"(Alex and Mike) had to decide the route between the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and prep school," Danny said. "They visited a half-dozen prep schools and Salisbury, the overall feeling of it, the aura and atmosphere, was second to none. It was a school where they felt at home and they wanted to pursue it for academics as well athletic career. So they chose that over the (QMJHL). No regrets. They loved it. They had a great time, so I just kind of followed."

Dan Donato, the brother of Harvard coach Ted Donato, was the coaching hockey at Salisbury when Alex and Michael enrolled, but he left the year Danny arrived. Danny was coached there first by Matt Corkery and then by Andrew Will, a former ECAC defensive-defenseman of the year at Union College.

"Andrew coached us to the championship, only the second one in Salisbury's history," Danny Biega said.

With the benefit of the backyard rink and the push from his older brothers, Biega always was ahead of the curve, usually making all-star teams in youth hockey.

"I was always a pretty strong skater, which I used a lot in youth hockey. I just had to work on different aspects of the game," he said. "From a pretty early age, my speed is what separated me from the others. As the game went on, little things needed touching up here and there. I've always tried to use my speed as much to my advantage as possible."

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