Kids growing up in America generally know the best way to a better paying job is to go to college. That’s not always the case for hockey players, especially those growing up in Canada who normally prefer the junior route to the National Hockey League.
For two Sharks on the current NHL All-Star ballot, being Canadian and going to a United States college proved to be the perfect combination. Dan Boyle
and Rob Blake both went to Ohio-based schools – Boyle to Miami of Ohio and Blake to Bowling Green State University – to achieve their goals.
Both were taken in the Ontario Hockey League draft, but for separate reasons, they went in a different direction.
“I was drafted by Sault Ste. Marie,” Blake said. “They wanted me to go back to Junior B for a year. I was a bit of a late bloomer. I was from a small town and wasn’t playing AAA.”
“I was 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds,” Boyle said. “College allowed me to get a little bigger and a little stronger. I wouldn’t say I was a late bloomer, it was more size for me. That was the issue. Oshawa drafted me.”
The two universities weren’t as obscure for hockey as many Americans more familiar with football and basketball might think.
“Bowling Green had won the national title two years before,” Blake said.
“I played in a league in Ottawa at the time and Miami recruited a lot of players from there,” Boyle said. “It was between there and Michigan State and I just fell in love with the campus when I got there.”
For Blake, there was another tie to Bowling Green.
“Nelson Emerson (former NHL forward and now Los Angeles Kings assistant coach) was from the area and he went to Bowling Green,” said Blake.
A product of the university making the show is a big plus.
“Right now, Miami has probably five to six kids in the NHL,” Boyle said. “As a kid going to college, you’re certainly interested in school, but you want to know who from that school made the NHL.”
The No. 1 benefit of the college game is it has much less travel than junior hockey in Canada and that allows for more individual development and workouts.
“I think the biggest factor was we practiced five days a week and played two games,” Blake said. “I was 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds. I had to become more mature and grow into my body. I became a better hitter and shooter in college. My skating improved because I was skating Monday through Friday for two hours. We only played 30 games a year. There’s a lot of teaching.”
Both players were very appreciative of their college experiences. Blake played three seasons for Bowling Green, was a Hobey Baker Award finalist and a NCAA West First Team All-American. Boyle used all four years of eligibility at Miami and was also a NCAA West First Team All-American and a Hobey Baker Finalist.
“It was a great experience to learn balance in life,” Blake said. “You had school, class and your personal life. It prepares you for the NHL lifestyle. I needed to mature physically and mentally. Not too many college kids needs to stay with a billet in the NHL.”
“As a team, you go to school together, you play together, you live together,” Boyle said. “The first year, you have to stay in the same dorms.”
Both truly enjoyed the atmosphere of the college game.
“Playing in that type of atmosphere in rivalry games was great,” Blake said. “Playing in front of 8-10,000 fans was perfect.”
“I never went to the OHL, but playing for a school is a great experience,” Boyle said. “We even had the band at our games.”
Blake almost left after his sophomore season as the Kings were quickly realizing the steal they had in their fourth round pick.
“I was approached after my second year, but my coach and I didn’t think I was ready,” Blake said. “After my third year, I knew I had accomplished what I need to do.”
Both players are on this year’s NHL All-Star ballot. Neither has any regrets about taking a less traveled and longer path to the NHL.
“It’s definitely the longer route,” Boyle said. “If you make it, great. But if you don’t at least you have a college degree. Looking back, I make the right choice.”
Neither player would end up needing a degree, but they both made the smart play for their careers. And isn’t college all about helping you get a good paying job?
The Sharks won’t have right wing Jonathan Cheechoo (upper body) or defenseman Brad Lukowich (lower body) for tomorrow night’s game vs. Edmonton.
“(Brad) stayed off the ice today and we won’t use him tomorrow,” Head Coach Todd McLellan said. “We’re pretty sure he’ll be ready by Thursday.”
The Sharks will play hosts to Edmonton on Saturday in a 7 p.m. start at HP Pavilion with tickets available at www.ticketmaster.com and at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office. The game will be available on CSN+, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.