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Tejchma knocking on AHL's door

by Brian Compton

It took Jason Tejchma a long time to reach the ranks of professional hockey.
If at first you don’t succeed, try again.

That was the mentality of Mississippi Sea Wolves coach Steffon Walby, who first tried to sign rookie center Jason Tejchma during the offseason. The UMass-Lowell product ultimately decided to sign with the Wheeling Nailers, but a lack of playing time left him frustrated. Once he became available again, Walby jumped on the opportunity to bring Tejchma to Biloxi.

“It’s funny because I recruited him heavily over the summer,” Walby said. “I remember his agent calling me and telling me he was going to go in a different direction. I told them to call me if they wanted to make a move, and when they did, I didn’t even hesitate.”

The move has paid off for both parties since Tejchma was acquired from the Nailers on Nov. 7 in exchange for future considerations. The 24-year-old leads the surging Sea Wolves in scoring with 16 goals and 24 assists in just 38 games. His play has helped Mississippi climb back into playoff contention.

“I just fell into a numbers game,” Tejchma said of his Wheeling experience. “I just wasn’t going to get the ice time. It was a good switch that I was able to come to Mississippi. It’s worked out.”

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think that he was going to be the person he was, not only for the team, but just for the organization,” Walby said. “I started him off in a minor, second-line kind of role and he jumped into the scoring instantly. He’s taken over as the top-line center on our team.”

Brian Compton
Brian Compton reports on the ECHL every week throughout the 2007-08 regular season.

It took Tejchma a long time to reach the ranks of professional hockey. After playing three years of juniors with the Danville Wings (NAHL), Tejchma received a scholarship offer at U-Mass Lowell. He played his first game as a freshman at the age of 20 and played all four years, racking up 40 goals and 56 assists during his collegiate career.

“I played juniors, and then I got a full-time scholarship to play at UMass-Lowell,” Tejchma said. “It was a good opportunity to go play there with lots of ice time. I actually really got to develop, and the coaching staff there really helped me work on my game.”

Once his college career came to a close, Tejchma decided to see what pro hockey was like. He signed a deal with the Fresno Falcons and wound up scoring seven goals in just 16 games. Not bad for someone who knew very little about the ECHL before entering it.

“I wasn’t sure what to do after college,” Tejchma said. “I went and played in Fresno for a little bit, just so I could see if this is what I wanted to do. It’s a great league. It’s more disciplined than college.”

It’s longer, too. Tejchma admitted he’s still adjusting to the 72-game schedule of the ECHL after playing no more than 40 games in a season at UMass-Lowell.

“I just take it one day at a time, because I’m playing almost twice the college season now,” Tejchma said. “We’re already up to Game 47, and in college I played about 28 or 29. It’s a lot of games. It’s different.”

Jason Tejchma said he would relish a chance to play at the Triple-A level.

As opposed to his time in Wheeling, Tejchma has been given every opportunity by Walby to succeed. While it probably should have taken Tejchma some time to adjust to the rise in overall talent at the professional level, Walby attributes some of Tejchma’s success to the fact that he’s an older rookie. In fact, the coach says he’s already established himself as a leader both on and off the ice.

“When you look at his statistics and you think of a collegiate kid coming out of school, you can only dream that he would have numbers that he has right now,” Walby gushed. “But he’s an older, smarter kid than just a kid coming straight out of college. Guys don’t treat him like a rookie. He’s almost revered as one of the older guys on the team.”

And one of the most talented. So much so that Walby believes it’s only a matter of time before Tejchma gets his first crack at the American Hockey League. The Sea Wolves are affiliated with the Norfolk Admirals, and Walby is in constant contact with the latter’s brass.

“I’m pushing for it every day. Every single day, I’m pushing for it,” Walby said. “I think depending on what happens with our affiliate in Norfolk, I think it’s going to be sooner than later. As much fun as it is winning after losing so many games, it’s still developmental.”

Tejchma said he would relish a chance to play at the Triple-A level. What he does with it is obviously up to him, but the Michigan native is ready for that special phone call, when or if it ever comes.

“I think that’s what everybody is trying to do when they start out,” Tejchma said. “Hopefully I can get a call-up and take it one game at a time when I get up there. All I want is a chance. That’s all you can ask for.”

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