When the Minnesota Wild selected forward Alex Tuch
with the 18th pick in the 2014 National Hockey League Entry Draft in Philadelphia, the club was adding a prospect with prototypical power-forward size. His 6-foot-4, 213-pound frame is his most evident asset. However, Tuch’s depth of character, which isn’t perceived upon first glance, might be the trait that sets him apart from other prospects.
For the past two summers, the 18-year-old has run a hockey camp for budding hockey players in his hometown of Syracuse, N.Y. As the owner and instructor, it’s an ideal offseason gig for a hockey-loving teenager.
The camp runs for six weeks, Monday through Thursday, and is an hour a day. While the clinic puts some spending money in his pocket, Tuch’s real joy is working with youngsters and setting a positive example for up-and-coming hockey players.
“It’s more just seeing the kids develop and giving back to my community,” Tuch said. “To a lot of these kids, I’m a role model here in the Syracuse area. I want to be as active as possible in my community.”
With the help of his parents Carl and Sharon, Tuch started the clinic with about 20 students. This past summer, the camp jumped in numbers to about 45 enrollees. Next summer, he expects those numbers to grow again.
While giving back to the community was one of the main reasons he started the camp, there have been some unintended benefits to his own game. While he’s not ready to think about coaching after his playing days are over, showing his pupils how to do things, like stickhandling, skating and shooting, has made him a better player.
“I actually think it helps me, too,” Tuch said. “Seeing and trying to break down each kid’s ability on the ice shows you what you can improve on.
“It also helps with the repetition. I have to do it once, twice, three times, and then you have to break it down for them. It helps because I have to break things down for myself as well.”
As a youngster in Upstate New York, Tuch had his own role model to look up to: Tim Connolly, who played in nearly 700 NHL games with the New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Tuch saw, firsthand, the sacrifices Connolly made to make it to the NHL. He also thought that if another guy from the neighborhood could make it to hockey’s highest level, he might get there one day, too. But he’d have to want it and, maybe more importantly, work for it.
“I saw how hard he worked and moved away at a young age, and dedicated his life to make it to the NHL,” Tuch said. “The example that he set, being from Syracuse and being that successful. It showed me that you didn’t have to be from Boston or a big hockey town or Canada, and you can still make it. So it put it in my mind that there’s always a chance.”
The work started on his backyard rink. His father built a 30-by-70 sheet of ice for his son to learn the game. There were some winters that were warmer than others, limiting the length of the outdoor-hockey season, but he and his friends would spend countless hours on the rink that he said was “a nice size for three-on-three.”
“We were out there as much as possible,” Tuch said. “I loved to bring my teammates and friends over to skate.”
As he grew in stature, so did his game and it led him beyond the boarders of New York. Tuch joined the U.S. National Development Team, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 2012 and played there the past two seasons. This fall, the winger begins his freshman year at Boston College. Along with hockey, there are the responsibilities of being a college student. Self-reliance is something Tuch has grown accustom to, from his upbringing to his summer hockey camps.
“It’s a little more freedom; you’re on your own a little more,” Tuch said. “You have to make sure that you’re going to class and staying on top of things. I’ve always been a pretty good student, so I’m just going to try to keep going down this path.”
The trail has taken Tuch from the backyard rink to a first-round pick playing college hockey and setting a positive example to youngsters in his hometown. He hopes that one day the path will lead him to the State of Hockey in a Wild sweater.