Dubuque Fighting Saints - University of Minnesota Duluth
It seems like we were just with you and Dubuque at the Clark Cup Final. Now we’re here with you and Minnesota Duluth at the Frozen Four. Big difference so far in a year?
Yeah, it’s been a little bit different. I thought my transition from the USHL to Division I hockey has been pretty easy. I was a little nervous right away, but the USHL is a pretty good league, obviously, and it really prepared me for my play here.
What’s been the biggest difference from playing in the USHL to playing Division I college hockey?
Just the older guys, I guess. They’re a little bit older and more mature than the guys in The U-Show, but the speed and stuff is pretty much the same. The guys’ shots are pretty close too.
Are you surprised at all at the success you’ve had as a freshman? It’s never easy to be a rookie, but you have a lot of junior experience prior to this. Is that the key attributing factor to your success or is it something in your build and makeup?
I guess just build and makeup a little bit, but I had enough junior experience leading up to my spot here. I’ve had a lot experience playing junior hockey to build my maturity and experience at the position.
Obviously, you’re very busy with the Frozen Four and focused on Duluth, but Dubuque just clinched their seventh consecutive playoff appearance. You have some former teammates on the team. Did you know about the clinch and, if so, how did you find out? Who did you reach out to first?
Of course I saw it. Obviously, following the USHL and Dubuque Fighting Saints on Twitter. I’m happy for them clinching again. I’m not surprised, to be honest. They’ve got a good program there. Jason Lammers is doing a great job in his second year there, and Jaxon Castor, my goalie partner last year, is playing unbelievably too, so hats off to them.
When you talk about Jaxon Castor, what have you seen in his game or what did you see in his game last year that has enabled him to play so well?
Just his maturity. He’s a little bit of an older goalie. He’s been able to play this year a lot more than he did last year. He was able to watch me and what I do to be successful, he translated it to his game a little bit. Matt Millar, the goalie coach there, is doing a really good job working with him as he did with me. He’s doing really well.
Obviously, with the junior experience, you played against a lot of players who have been in the tournament and your regular season so far. Who left in the Frozen Four did you hate playing against then and hate playing against now, or maybe someone you loved playing against. Or maybe even one of your teammates that you might’ve played against that you play with now.
I would say North Dakota. I wanted to play them in the regional we were in. I was hoping we could play them here. I thought those guys were really fun to play against, with the rivalry we have with them. I know a few of their players there, so it’s really fun to play against them.
Tri-City Storm - Harvard University
John, we just finished talking to Hunter Miska with Duluth. It’s a Clark Cup Final rematch here at the Frozen Four.
Yeah, it was a great matchup last year. It’s exciting to get back to him again and play against him.
We asked him this question and we figured we’d ask you the same thing. What’s the biggest transition you’ve had to make from playing in the USHL to playing Division I college hockey?
I’d say the speed of the game and a lot of older and stronger guys, really. You’re playing against 22, 23, sometimes 24-year-olds. So, you just have to adjust your game to that.
Potential matchup with former [Tri-City Storm] teammate Tory Dello. Are you pulling for Notre Dame so you can face him in the championship game?
Yeah, he’s a great guy. I’m always rooting for him. Hopefully they can pull it out. I’ve been talking to him lately, and hopefully they can win.
Of course you guys won the Clark Cup last year with Tri-City. For you specifically, how special would it be to win a Clark Cup last year then go on to win an NCAA championship this year?
I mean, not many people get to say that. Yeah, that’s definitely what I’m aiming for here.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned during your freshman season at Harvard?
Just take each game the same. Obviously, the stage gets bigger in college hockey because there’s a limited number of games compared to the USHL. But, yeah, just play each game and things will take care of themselves.
You’ve been with a couple development camps with the Edmonton Oilers. You’ve been through a USHL season. You’re almost down with your first season in college hockey. What has hockey meant to you personally and where do you think it can take you here in the near future?
I just want to take it one step at a time, whether it be at a camp or at Harvard. I have to focus on the six inches in front of my face. We’ve got Duluth on Thursday. I’m focused on that.
And for all the Tri-City Storm fans, ‘six inches in front of your face’ is a [Tri-City head coach] Bill Muckalt favorite, right?
Yeah, it’s a shout-out to Bill Muckalt.
Dubuque Fighting Saints - University of Denver
You won a Clark Cup in Dubuque with head coach Jim Montgomery who is now you head coach in Denver, how special would it be for you guys to win a Clark Cup and then a NCAA championship in Denver?
It would be unbelievable. I think it’s a winning culture plan for him. He brings that kind of mentality that we want to win. I remember in Dubuque he told me that we are going to go to Denver and win a championship and that always resonated with me and that’s what we’re looking to do here.
I remember interviewing you in Dubuque as well as Blake Hillman, and the excitement level for both of you looking forward to your college careers because you would be with Coach Montgomery. After the first two seasons in Denver, now that it’s come to fruition, what’s it been like being under Coach Montgomery? What has been the biggest thing for you personally working with Jim?
It’s been awesome. Not much has changed in how he coaches and what he expects from you. I think he’s just very detail-oriented and that’s helped me as a player, and that’s what brings our team success.
You’ve had teammates in Dubuque playing with you in Denver, how has that made it easier for you knowing you had guys you were familiar with?
I think it helped me a lot just knowing some guys and especially playing for Jim coming in, knowing what he expects as far as how hard he wants you to working in practices as well as what he wants on the ice as well as off the ice. It helped the other guys playing in Dubuque too, they have that same mentality.
Looking at college hockey in general and the players and coaches that are in it, do you feel like you came into the USHL at its peak? Even college hockey with its popularity after Jack Eichel is drafted and the success that people have already to start their NHL careers like Brock Boeser who you played against?
Yeah, I think right now and kind of the time I was there, the USHL was really stepping up as far as its professionalism and kind of getting the recognition needed.
Any teammates or opponents that you remember playing against in the USHL that we should keep an eye out for? Teammate Logan O’Connor has a Clark Cup under his belt, couple tough opponents with alumni like Cal Petersen, Dennis Gilbert, maybe we’ll see a Hillman on Gilbert hit?
You remember most the guys you play against. I remember Cal Petersen, and Nardella, Cale Morris on the other team. There’s good friends but all of that aside because we are looking to move on and win a Championship.
Chicago Steel - University of Notre Dame
You played for the Chicago Steel, you’re at the United Center, you’re a Chicago Blackhawks pick, I know you’re tired of this question but what’s it like to be here at the Frozen Four here in Chicago?
It’s very special, it’s a very historic building and a lot of winning happens here. Being close to campus for us, hopefully that winning tradition can sneak to Notre Dame’s side.
Chicago Steel since your time have since re-located, but they’re now first in the Eastern Conference. One guy, Jake Jaremko, was on your team during your season, but what has it been like to see the Chicago Steel get back on the map?
It’s awesome. I think we all follow up with our teams. I mean, we have like 18 guys on our team that played in the USHL, and have bragging rights. It’s cool to see them come on strong this year and Jaremko is a heck of a player and we are excited. I know all the Steel alumni are doing well and finding success this year.
Notre Dame have 17 USHL alumni on their roster, most of all the Frozen Four teams. Is there a special, even unspoken, that you all graduated from the league and are having success in college hockey?
I think so. I think all of us going through the similar grind of going through a high-paced 60-game season has helped us. Our freshman especially, [Andrew Peeke] has had a big year for us and Cam [Morrison] has come on really strong. Cal [Burke] was having a good year before his injury. All of the guys who played there, Michael O’Leary too, have come on and had really good freshmen seasons. It does bond us as a group, but I think you can see it in the freshmen more than anything else, how the jump that some guys have to go through they don’t go through it at all.
One of the most notable USHL alumni on your team Cal Petersen from Waterloo, we talked last year about his talent level and where he ranks among the college ranks, even in the world, but talk about how Cal makes your job easier as a defenseman.
He definitely does, he’s an incredible talent. He’s a heck of a leader too. He’s the backbone of our team and that’s no secret or surprise. The defense and the forwards have the confidence that if we can play a hard, fast, physical game and get some chances and he’s going to have our back and be there for us in the end. It brings confidence to the whole locker room when you know you got a guy back there like Cal.
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 15th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2016-17. 30 or more players from the USHL have been selected in four consecutive NHL Drafts, and more than 400 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.
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