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                                                   THE PROCESS

Growing up in Canada it's every child's dream to play in the National Hockey League and win the Stanley Cup. I was no different as I was being raised my parents who had me holding a hockey stick before I could even remember. I grew up in a family that was driven by hockey and it became my passion. All I ever wanted to do from a young age was play the game I fell in love with. My parents actually have pictures of me sleeping with a new hockey helmet on or me posing in net with my homemade cardboard pads in different goalie stances. From an early age I knew hockey was what I wanted to do and my parents provided me with their utmost support and some unique experiences along the way.

When I was four years old, I was first enrolled into organized hockey, and who better to have as your coach than your own father. I was fortunate enough to play under my dad for a longtime at a young age but once I reached my first year Peewee at eleven years old, my dad told me it was time to learn from someone new. At that age it was difficult to understand his decision but looking back at it, it was one of the best decisions he made, as it allowed me to grow as kid and a player and learn different systems/techniques from different coaches.
Following Peewee and graduating from elementary school my parents got a divorce. It was an extremely difficult time for me at that age but it also provided me an opportunity to attend a different high school in Tsawwassen, a town close by to Richmond that had a hockey academy powered by the Vancouver Giants. My father stayed in Richmond where I played my minor hockey and my mother moved to Tsawwassen so I could attend the hockey academy. As you enter the Bantam level, all the focus is on the WHL Draft and attending this hockey academy allowed me to have extra practices and off ice conditioning and workouts instructed by Ian Gallagher and Don Hay. Being able to learn from two of the best at their position at a young age is something I'm grateful for. A lot of people have asked me what the biggest thing I learned attending the academy was and although I improved all my on ice and off ice traits, the biggest thing I developed was my work ethic. Ian Gallagher is a blue collar hard working individual that didn't sugar coat anything and told you how it was. At a young age a lot of kids can shy away from that type of teaching but my parents were no different and I strived in that environment. He taught us to be mentally tough and when you became tired to only push harder and as I moved up through different levels of hockey, that was the single most important trait for me as an undersized player. In my mind I knew I had to work harder than everyone else and that's what I pride myself on and still do.

WHL Draft Day.

I remember waking up that morning and being so excited and nervous to sit on the computer and hopefully see my name appear on the screen. All my friends and I at the hockey academy planned on skipping school that day and decided to meet at my mother's condo after she left for work so we could click the refresh button and play Xbox- and that's exactly what did until Ian Gallagher came knocking on my door. Now Ian is one of the nicest individuals I've ever worked with/met but he was also extremely intimidating and when he knocked on my door, we all panicked because we knew the consequences weren't going to be pretty. One my buddies was drafted in the first round  that morning and was sitting on my patio doing an interview on what it felt like to be drafted and Ian took his phone and hung it up. I don't remember who answered the door when he showed up because I was hiding somewhere in the house but he informed us that we had five minutes to be in the van. As we all filed out of the condo and into the van, not a word was said and we drove directly to the track at our high school. Our consequences? Run two miles - which was eight laps. After completing the eight laps we didn't even hesitate but to return to my mothers condo where the pizza delivery guy had been waiting for a half hour. Later on in the afternoon I was selected by the Portland Winterhawks. It will be a day I'll never forget.

After attending the hockey academy for three years and graduating from Richmond Minor to the Major Midget Level I was recruited by the Penticton Vees of the BCHL. During my Major Midget season for the Greater Vancouver Canadians, I had a successful year as a first year player and had a decision to make about my future in hockey. At this age, this decision can ultimately make or break your career. As I was being recruited by the Penticton Vees, their head coach Fred Harbinson informed my family and I about the college route and how there are rules and regulations to be able to play at the college level and how to retain your eligibility. Basically I had to pick to either sign with the Portland Winterhawks and play a year of Junior B for the Richmond Sockeyes and be a call up and lose my college eligibility or I could verbally commit to the Penticton Vees and play at the Junior A level and retain my college eligibility and begin contacting different colleges about possibly securing a scholarship. At the time I honestly didn't know which route I wanted to take but I did know I wanted to play at the highest level possible that season and that was for the Penticton Vees. 

Once I attended the Penticton Vees camp and began preseason games, it was evident in my mind that I chose the right route. A lot of the players had already committed to various college institutions and hearing them talk about their commitments only made me want to achieve that as well. Before Christmas break of my first season at sixteen, I committed to the University of Nebraska Omaha. I was able to go on an unofficial visit and tour their campus and facilities and once I returned to Penticton, my parents and I agreed that was  the right  destination for me. My first season was successful and I played some consistent steady hockey but it wasn't until our playoffs where I really elevated my game. We got bounced in the second round of the playoffs and as disappointing as it was, I was content with my play in the post season and was ready to build on it the next year. My second season in Penticton was a memorable one as we strung together a forty two game win streak which ultimately lead to a National Championship victory. This was also my first draft eligible year for the NHL Draft and after another successful playoffs, I was excited about the upcoming draft and possibly hearing my name called. Unfortunately it didn't happen and I was passed over in all seven rounds. I was devastated and extremely upset as your whole life you dream of making the National Hockey League and this was my first opportunity to be affiliated with the league. This is where I go back to Ian. When you're tired, you push harder and that's how I treated it. I stayed that summer in Penticton to train with our assistant coach Michael Hengen. I worked as hard as could and prepared for the next season as I was going to be the team captain and wanted to be a role model for the younger players coming up. I had something to prove as in my mind I felt I was deserving to be selected in the draft. That summer I also started having second thoughts about my commitment to the University of Nebraska Omaha. It was nothing against their program as they have a great set up but during that time they had changed both their assistant coaches various times and I didn't feel comfortable that their staff knew me as a player and I didn't feel comfortable that I knew their staff. Ultimately during my third and final season in Penticton, I decommitted and opened up my commitment options. 

Remember how I said earlier that I had heard all the players talking about their commitments to various colleges, the campuses and teams? Well when I was sixteen during that time, I did my own research and the one school that I dreamed of playing for was the University of North Dakota. It's funny how if you set your mind to something you can achieve it and ultimately I committed to University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux. That season we lost in the league finals and as upset as I was that my junior career was over, I was extremely excited to attend the UND and start my college career the following season. That summer my teammate and one of my best friends Wade Murphy and I went down to Grand Forks, North Dakota to being training with the team and take some summer classes. This is a big step in any players career as I didn't really know anyone on the team and was moving to a new country pretty far  away from home. 

My start..  Definitely wasn't exactly how I planned.

I remember laying in bed on the third morning after arriving in North Dakota and hearing a knock at the door in my dorm room. As I answered the door it was our assistant coach Brad Berry. Brad asked me if I had spoken to my mom that morning andI hadn't at the time yet, but I thought it was really strange why he'd ask that question. He told me to contact my mom immediately and come to the rink afterwards. As I called my mom, she picked up the phone and she was crying on the other line, she said your father is in the hospital in a coma. My heart dropped and I immediately began crying. My dad is a diabetic and his blood sugar levels had a dropped and he entered a coma. I was thankful my roommate Wade was there to comfort me but it was definitely the last news I wanted to hear after I just departed home to begin my college career. After pulling myself together and explaining what happened to Wade, we walked to the arena and I met with the coaches. All the coaches, Dave Hakstol, Brad Berry and Dane Jackson were very understanding and told me that I was now apart of their family and that my family was their family. They gave me the option to fly home for the summer and miss the remaining weeks of training to be with my family and father during this difficult time. After discussing the options with my family, we ultimately decided that I would stay in North Dakota for the summer. As difficult as it was not to return home, I knew deep down that my dad would want me to continue to work hard to strive to accomplish my goals and that he rather me stay in North Dakota instead of coming home.

You often hear a lot of guys that play junior hockey or college that it was the best time of their life and honestly I can say that about North Dakota. As you enter college, you enter with your classmates that were also recruited from different programs and you enter as complete strangers and leave as best friends. The bond you create with your classmates is something I wouldn't trade for anything in the world.

As far as our own on-ice performance, we found a lot of success at North Dakota. Within my three years, we were able to capture two regular season championships and one National Championship. During my first two seasons we were able to reach the Frozen Four Finals which is identical to the Final Four in basketball. It's what every team strives to reach as you give your team an opportunity to compete for a National Championship. Unfortunately during my first two years as a freshmen and sophomore, we endured heart break as we lost in the semi finals of the Frozen Four. 

During my freshmen year we lost to our rivals the Minnesota Golden Gophers 2-1 as they scored with .6 seconds left in the game. It was the most devastated I've ever been and it couldn't have come at a worse time as we had to endure the entire summer with that loss in the back of our minds.

The following year we rebounded with a Regular Season Championship and reached the Frozen Four once again. Again, unfortunately we couldn't find it within ourselves to get over that hump and lost to the host Boston University Terriers at TD Garden in Boston. At this moment, I thought our chances were over. Coming in as a freshmen, I believed our best opportunity to win would be during my sophomore year and we had blown that opportunity. That off season we lost a lot of players to NHL Contracts and our coach Dave
Hakstol was hired as the Head Coach for the Philadelphia Flyers. Coming into my third season as a junior there were a lot of question marks surrounding our team. We had eleven freshmen, a new goalie and a new coach. But being the Fighting Sioux, we found a way and captured another Regular Season Championship. From the beginning it was evident we had a special team and all those early question marks were erased from everyone's minds. The question now was could we make it to the Frozen Four for a third straight season and could we get past the semi finals. 

After playing extremely well in the Regionals and defeating Northeastern and Michigan, we found ourselves in the Frozen Four again and set to play against our league rival Denver University.

We got off to a great start and out to a 2-0 lead but after an unfortunate bounce and a nice face off goal, Denver managed to tie the game at two. Now at this point having faced heart break in this exact game in back to back seasons, negative thoughts start to creep in your mind. Are we cursed? 

With a minute left in the game, the face off in the offensive zone, we ran a face off play and scored the go ahead goal, the biggest goal I've ever been on the ice for - 18,000 people on their feet screaming. Emotions were running high but at the same time we needed to settle in and kill the last minute and we'd be in the National Championship game on Saturday. Thankfully we held on and added an empty netter and were set to meet Quinnipiac.

National Championship Game.

The night before the game it was near impossible to fall asleep. We've waited three years for this opportunity and now we had our chance. Every single possible scenario ran through my mind. The morning we woke up our game day routine was the same. We had breakfast and then attended the arena for morning skate. The energy was tense and you could tell guys were nervous. After completing our morning skate and returning back to the hotel for our pregame meal, meetings and nap it was finally time to depart for the arena. As guys go through their individual routines and get prepared for the game, all the defensemen were sitting next to each other in one corner of the room near the goalies. Our goalie Cam Johnson asked someone for a roll of sock tape; now remember, we have warm ups in ten minutes. Whoever it was threw the roll of tape at him and he missed it and went right through his fingers. Our entire defensive core saw this and we looked at each other stunned, we couldn't believe our goalie just missed the most routine catch prior to the most important game of the year.

Game time.

During the first period we got out to an early two nothing lead and then ended up getting into some penalty trouble and the opposition capitalized on a five on three opportunity. The buzzer sounded and we headed to the locker room with a two to one lead feeling confident in our even strength play.
During the second period, both teams traded chances and the score remained two to one but it wasn't until the third period were we took over. Our first line, titled the CBS Line took over and potted two quick goals and has us out to a four to one lead. I specifically remember sitting on the bench with my defensive partner and roommate Gage Ausmus and saying that we were about to be National Champions. Our bench and all the fans in the stands were going crazy. We added a fifth goal and the countdown was on. Five, four, three, two, one, National Champions! We were on top of the college hockey world.

After our post game celebration of pictures and cutting the net, I remember sitting on my phone in the dressing and watching all the snapchat stories of everyone on campus either at the bars or at different house parties and it was nuts. Following the game, all the boys went out and celebrated and that night will forever be one of the greatest nights of my life. We celebrated with our die hard loyal Fighting Sioux fans and family members in attendance. I remember thinking to myself at one point during the night as we celebrated that I had just played my final game as a Fighting Sioux member and that the best three years of my life were coming to an end.

Decision Time.

Upon returning to campus the following morning, I knew I would have to make a decision and sign an NHL Contract with one of the teams I had been in contact with. After a couple of days of celebrating, I dedicated an entire day to go through the process. I spent an entire day doing conference calls with the six different NHL teams and speaking with Head Coaches, General Managers and Scouts. This process was extremely stressful and long as all six teams pitched great opportunities and points about my future with their organization but ultimately I chose my hometown team the Vancouver Canucks. I didn't officially inform the organization and sign my contract until the next morning as I wanted to sleep on my decision in case I had a change of heart. That day, I was in contact with the Canucks and signed my contract but it wasn't officially announced on Twitter until later in the afternoon. 
Our team had a team dinner planned that evening and I was sitting at the table and my phone started to go off, it was constantly vibrating and I was receiving hundreds of tweets and text messages. It was definitely a feeling I'll never forget. The hardest part was knowing that my college career was officially over and I wouldn't be able to return to college the following year with all my teammates. 

In total for me personally, going to college was the greatest thing I ever decided to do and I encourage all families to heavily research the topic of playing Major Junior or playing College Hockey. Both are great routes and have many successful stories but I see to many kids making decisions when they aren't educated enough.

I also just want to thank Brayden for asking me to write a piece for him, much appreciated from a long time friend and teammate

                                                                                                                           Troy Stecher 
                                                                                                       THE JUNIOR HOCKEY JOURNAL

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