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Local tries to improve out East

Hockey player looks for some attention from the next level

Posted: May 3, 2010 10:53 p.m.
Updated: May 4, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 
In hockey circles, Southern California is not exactly known as a hotbed of talent compared to other areas in the United States.

Many of the top amateur, collegiate and semi-professional teams in America are located on the East Coast and the best young players often head there looking to be noticed by a prominent scout or coach.

So when Valencia High School graduate Eric Stelnick decided he really wanted to play hockey at the highest level, he did the only thing that made sense — he began looking East.  

In the summer of 2009 he went to New England with the club hockey team the California Cool Catz to play in the Chowder Cup, a popular annual tournament with teams from all over the country. A strong showing there garnered interest in him from various amateur teams and he eventually agreed to play right wing for the Massachusetts Maple Leafs Junior B club of the Continental Hockey Association (CHA). 

At first the transition was difficult for Stelnick because it was his first time living away from home.

He did not know anyone in Boston prior to his first visit and found himself feeling homesick during his first few months there.
He found refuge, however, in the one thing that had always been familiar to him — the ice. 

“When I came up (to Boston), that was basically my family,” Stelnick said of the Leafs. “I had no mom, no dad. My coach was basically my uncle. And if I needed anything, my family was always there.”

Stelnick worked with a drive and determination fueled by more than just a desire to succeed.

His grandfather, Alex, was a huge hockey fan and one of his biggest supporters. When he passed away a month before Stelnick left for the Chowder Cup, it gave him the push he needed to give it his all.

“He was a hockey fanatic. He loved the Kings and he watched them every day on his couch,” Stelnick said of his grandfather. “So, when I was thinking about him after he passed away on June 3 (2009) ... it pushed me to fulfill my dream of playing hockey back East and going to college.”

In Boston, Stelnick played hockey six days a week. He slowly began to feel more at home and his relentless desire to improve as a player paid off as he went on to lead the Leafs in goals (76), assists (78) and total points (154) over the course of the 86-game season. His play helped lead the Leafs to a deep CHA playoff run and earn the team a spot in the Junior B Nationals, which is one of five major levels of junior hockey recognized by USA Hockey.   

“He has tremendous speed and that was the first thing that stood out about him,” said Leafs head coach and general manager Tony DeSilva. “He was blessed with some good linemates and they just clicked. It is one of those things you throw together in practice and all of a sudden it works and you just go with it.”

Despite Stelnick’s recent success with the Leafs, there are still several hurdles he must clear. He is 5 feet 8 inches tall and 140 pounds.

Several coaches and trainers have told him he needs to add 10 to 20 pounds of muscle to handle the wear and tear of the highest levels of hockey. This will be especially important as he transitions from club to college hockey, which he is hoping to do.

Stelnick says he has had some looks from some East Coast colleges.

DeSilva says the Maple Leafs have advanced 150 players in the last 12 years to high-level hockey. (Junior B is slightly below college level.)

It’s not often that DeSilva has California kids come out to play for him.

Speed got Stelnick there.

Power and size will have to get him further.

“How much further he goes depends on him,” DeSilva says. “He’s going to have to adjust to the style (when and if he moves up) and at least it won’t be as big of an adjustment (as coming from California to here).”

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