Troy Stecher realized two dreams — winning a National Collegiate Athletic Association Frozen Four hockey championship and inking an NHL contract — within a five-day span.
The first happened on April 9 as the North Dakota Fighting Hawks exploded for three goals in the third period to defeat the Quinnipiac Bobcats 5-1, which featured Stecher’s former Penticton Vees teammates Michael Garteig and Travis St. Denis. The Richmond native signed an NHL contract with the Vancouver Canucks on April 13.
“It was really special,” Stecher said on winning the Frozen Four. “Obviously my first two years we were able to make it there, the semifinal. A lot of colleges and a lot of different programs would be really thrilled with making it that far. The pressure to play in North Dakota, it’s not good enough to just make it. You’ve got to win.”
A day after signing with the Canucks, Stecher said the win still hadn’t sunk in.
“It’s pretty remarkable,” said Stecher. “It’s something I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Stecher said he played well this season with a lot of confidence. He gave a lot of credit to his defensive partner, Gage Ausmus, his roommate and team captain.
“He’s just a hard-nosed stay-at-home guy. He really allowed me the opportunity to join the rush and kind of be that fourth forward up in the play,” said Stecher, who led Fighting Hawks defenceman with eight goals and 21 assists. “I knew he would be back there to bail me out if I did make a mistake. Having the confidence from the coaching staff, they would encourage me to jump up. It was obviously nice. I think I did alright, making me into a more complete player.”
His career-high 29 points also ranked him sixth in scoring among NCAA blueliners. That output surpassed what he produced his first two seasons by five points. Stecher called it a positive sign.
“I was fortunate enough this year to run the power play here with four forwards,” said Stecher, who will finish out his semester at school before deciding what his next move with Vancouver will be.
Making the decision to leave North Dakota a year early wasn’t easy for Stecher. He said it’s hard to explain, that it’s something a person has to experience. Stecher believes that each recruit the Fighting Hawks bring in is the top-end player from their junior team. They come in expecting to be given things. Once the players walk into the room, they realize the program is bigger than them.
“You walk into the halls every day seeing names like Jonathan Toews, T.J. Oshie, Ed Belfour and all these big time alums,” said Stecher, who helped the Vees win an RBC cup in 2012. “You quickly realize that there is a lot better players there than you are so you can’t expect too much. You have to go to work. The bonds you create with your teammates are absolutely incredible.”
Stecher is thankful he lived with his entire class (Keaton Thompson, Paul LaDue, Gage Ausmus and Luke Johnson).
“Those four guys will be my best friends for the rest of my life,” he said. “It’s tough leaving them. Hockey is a business now.
“We were always together. Whether we go out to eat, go to the rink, going to class,” he continued. “It’s just a special bond between the five of us.”
Stecher said he signed with his hometown team because they presented good opportunities. He talked about being able to build strong relationships like in Penticton and North Dakota, and now Vancouver.
“The relationships I built with some of the people in the organization I felt really strongly about,” said Stecher, who was majoring in communications. “That was one of the main reasons why I decided to pick Vancouver.”
So what does Vancouver like about him? His compete and battle level are two things, he said.
“I understand I’m not the biggest guy (five-foot-11, 191 pounds) on the ice,” he said. “I’m sure I’m going to have to adapt to different things at the next level. That’s one thing they really liked was that, heading into a corner, and just having the mentality to want to battle. Doesn’t matter the size of the guy. Just something I have always incorporated into my game.”
There is also the consistency factor. He said that goes a long way for a hockey team. And there is the offence he chips in. In 119 NCAA games over three seasons, he collected 53 points (13-40-53).
Among Stecher’s memories of the Canucks as a fan is the West Coast Express line of Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison and Todd Bertuzzi. He said they were a pretty dynamic line, with Bertuzzi among the best power forwards in the NHL. He was also a fan of Ed Jovanovski and of course the Stanley Cup run of 2011.
“All the memories I have as a fan, it’s a pretty crazy feeling being able to be a part of this organization that I grew up cheering for.”