Even before Tom Preissing
realized his dream of becoming a professional hockey player, he was already seeing the NHL through the eyes of an economics major. The 2003 Colorado College
graduate wrote his senior thesis on competitive balance in the NHL and its effects on the League over a 60-year span.
Now, Preissing finds he is living the model NHL life as a defenseman for the Los Angeles Kings.
Yes, long gone are the days when Preissing begrudgingly wrote the graduation-required thesis -- all 95 pages of it. And even if he is quick to remark that his hard work isn’t exactly a page-turner, it is certainly an accomplishment that would make any parent proud. Especially Preissing’s mom and dad, who are educators by trade.
The article was so impressive that his thesis adviser submitted the paper to the Eastern Economics Journal, and the thesis was eventually published in 2005.
“It’s not as glamorous as it sounds,” Preissing laughed. “The actual article that appears in the journal is a scaled down version of my thesis.
“It determined what made teams win or lose in the NHL. I looked at things like free agency and expansion and basically used a mathematical model to figure out if things like expansion made teams win or lose more, or if the draft made teams more or less competitive.”
He should know about competitiveness. It’s a trait Preissing, 29, is known for after starting as a forward early in his career before converting to defense. Since then, the defenseman has proven his competitiveness is an inbred blueprint that stems from his upbringing.
“As a child, Tom loved being outside and showed a talent and love of athletics as early as 3 when he could hit pitches his grandma threw him in the yard with his big red bat,” recalls his mother, Cathy. “He's always had high expectations for himself, which seem to motivate and drive him both in school and on the playing field.
“He was -- and still is -- an avid reader, a great writer and had a natural affinity for math. He played hockey, soccer and baseball all through high school as well as participated in track, golf and tennis,” she continued. “While hockey was his favorite sport (followed by soccer), Tom never limited himself to only playing hockey as a youth.”
Academically, Tom had two secret weapons -- his best examples were his parents, who have continued to strive in education for almost two decades.
Born in Arlington Heights, Ill., Preissing, the youngest of three, was raised in Rosemount, Minn. Cathy works at Breck Academy -- a private school in Minneapolis -- as a lower school dean for children in grades 2-4. His father, Mark, works as a special education teacher and curriculum coordinator in the Robbinsdale school district.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out whom to ask for advice when writing his thesis -- it took an economics major. Cathy was asked to proofread Tom’s work and admitted she was clueless about all of her son’s mathematical theorems and formulas. One thing she was certain of was that it was indeed interesting.
“Of course we were proud of his thesis,” she said. “It was a lot of hard work on Tom's part. For a while though, Tom's dad and I weren't sure Tom was going to finish the thesis by the deadline. I found the idea to be of great interest. It's even more exciting, and indicative of the kind of school CC is, that Tom's thesis adviser thought Tom's idea was worthy of further investigation and gave Tom credit as a co-author for some of his own work.”
With such genetic smarts, one might think Preissing would follow his parents’ paths in education. But the only stat that mattered to the offensive defenseman (five goals, 10 assists in 39 games in 2007-08) was his plus/minus, and even he never expected his dream would become reality.
“Growing up, they’re both teachers, so first and foremost, education was certainly important,” Preissing said. “And I never really was one of those people who expected to play in the NHL. Obviously it was a dream of mine, but realistically, I was pretty happy just to be able to go to college.”
Life in Los Angeles seems to have taken hold of Preissing despite only being 38 games into his first season since signing a four-year contract with the team as a free agent last July. The California sun is a welcome perk after having played in the frigid temperatures of Ottawa with the Senators in 2006-07, when he had 38 points (seven goals, 31 assists) in 80 games, leading all Ottawa defensemen. His plus-40 rating was tied for the best among NHL defensemen.
The math makes sense after looking at Preissing’s past numbers. In his final year with Colorado College (2002-03), he was named NCAA West First Team All-American and led the nation in points by a defenseman (23 goals, 29 assists in 42 games) and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, given annually to the best player in American college hockey. In April 2003, San Jose signed Preissing as a free agent. He was named Sharks’ rookie of the year at season’s end.
His parents couldn’t be prouder. Even if he didn’t follow in their educational footsteps.
“Aside from little kid dreams of being in the NHL, we never envisioned this life for Tom,” said Cathy. “In fact, one of our greatest joys is that our adult son is living his dream, loving what he does and having fun at his job.”
Settled in Manhattan Beach now, the self-admitted homebody who likes to watch movies and listen to L.A. Indie artist Brett Dennen in his spare time is just grateful for his good fortune.
“To be playing in the NHL, and have an education to fall back on, if and when I need it, is a pretty nice feeling,” Preissing said. “Business ownership is something I’d look into, but in all honesty, I’ll probably continue my education after hockey is over.”
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.