Friday, October 10, 2008

Wings prospect Nyquist adjusts to life as a college hockey player

Red Wings prospect Gustav Nyquist has begun his North American hockey odyssey with the University of Maine Black Bears, and he spoke to the Portland Press Herald's Rachel Lenzi about his decision to take an unconventional route to professional hockey via the NCAA:

October 9, Portland Press Herald: "I've always had the dream, and everyone's dream is to play in the NHL," Nyquist said. "I was really excited to come over here. The rink's much smaller here, and I wanted to come over and find out what it was like (to play hockey). I want to see how the game is here and how much it takes to get to the NHL."

Maine's roster includes 13 American-born players and 12 Canadian-born players. But NCAA Division I academic eligibility rules require that foreign students must meet high school graduation and core curriculum requirements, have a GPA of 2.0 (on a 4.0 scale) and meet minimum scores on the ACT or the SAT (taken in English; the NCAA has different test score requirements for each country).

"It's very challenging to recruit in Europe, and it takes a lot of work in helping (Europeans) get eligible academically, simply because they did not grow up planning to go to college here," Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. "The NCAA clearinghouse has very strict regulations and does not give any special treatment to foreign players. It's very difficult to qualify academically, no matter how good you are. Europe is not an area where we think we'll get a lot of players every year, but this opens the door for a couple more prospects. And we're pleased with the two we have."

One of the main reasons that Nyquist was chosen by the Red Wings was his decision to head to Maine as it gives him four years of development time while Detroit retains his rights, and both he and fellow Swedish import Theo Andersson know that their freshman seasons will require significant adjustments to the North American style of play and the dimensions of a 200'x85' rink:

"You have a little bit more time with the puck [in Europe] and we don't hit as much as they do here," Nyquist said. "They go harder to the net here, and in Sweden we search for a nice play or a nice pass. Here, there's more shooting and going right to the net."

The Detroit Red Wings took Nyquist in the fourth round (121st overall) of this year's NHL entry draft after he scored 11 goals and 20 assists in 24 games with Malmo, a team in Sweden's top junior hockey league, despite missing six weeks with a shoulder injury. But he felt needed to hone his game and become more physical against bigger, stronger college players.

Black Bears senior Matt Duffy tells Lenzi that he and his teammates plan to assist Nyquist and Andersson adjust to life as a collegiate hockey player in the U.S., but he admits that he's not sure whether he could match their linguistic moxie:

"If I went to Sweden, I guarantee I couldn't understand half the things that were being said," Duffy said. "I'd be at a loss."

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