Capitals development camp is like summer school for future NHLers. As they’re drilled in the system on the ice, invitees are taught lessons about being a professional off it. Between practices and scrimmages, the Washington staff instructs its prospects on nutrition, conditioning and decorum.
It’s a lot for any young player to take in, especially when he’s trying to impress his potential employer at every session. But for the several Capitals prospects making college a part of their development, juggling learning, performance and physical conditioning is already a mandatory part of the road to the NHL.
Defenseman Patrick Wey, for example, graduated from Boston College this spring with a degree in information systems and a minor in philosophy. Now in his fourth development camp, Wey opted to play out his career at Boston College, where he won four Beanpot tournaments, three Hockey East Championships and two NCAA titles.
While Wey had already been drafted before beginning his BC career, free agent signee Nate Schmidt used his college career to bolster his resume and find a professional home.
Undrafted while playing with Fargo in the USHL, Schmidt shined over three seasons at the University of Minnesota and was the WCHA’s highest scoring defenseman in 2012-13. With professional offers finally on the table, he left the Golden Gophers before his senior year, ready and eager to kick start his professional career.
2012 sixth-round pick Riley Barber will likely have an opportunity to make a similar early leap, though he is returning to Miami (Ohio) to study business for at least one more year after earning CCHA Rookie of the Year honors last season.
Barber’s draft classmate and one-time Michigan commit Connor Carrick took a different approach to college and hockey.
After being selected in the fifth round of the 2012 NHL draft and facing a choice between playing at Michigan or in the Canadian Hockey League, Carrick told reporters he thought his mother would “kill me if I didn’t get a degree at some point.”
But when Carrick landed with the OHL’s Whalers in Plymouth, Mich., he decided that getting his degree and playing in the competitive Canadian junior league weren’t mutually exclusive.
Plymouth is just 20 minutes from the University of Michigan, allowing Carrick to play for the Whalers, and take classes at Michigan. Taking a lightened course load spread out over the course of the entire calendar year, rather than just the academic one, Carrick was able to get a year of OHL hockey and college credit under his belt simultaneously.
“In the beginning it was a little difficult, but after that you get in a routine like everything else,” Carrick said. “You figure out what you can get away with in classes, the time work would take, how to manage your time.”
Carrick hasn’t honed his interests into a major just yet, though he cited sports management as “something that could be cool to get into.” So far, he’s just knocked out requirements in Michigan’s school of Language, Sciences and Arts.
“First semester was poli sci and and English requirement. Second semester was a second English class and sports management class,” Carrick explained. “Then spring term — I just took the finals for them — that was an introduction to logic class and economics.”
The 19-year-old says he’ll keep up that unorthodox arrangement as long as he’s playing for Plymouth, but if and when his career dictates a change of scenery, he’ll return to Michigan to finish up his degree during summer semesters.
“It’ll take a while,” he said, “but at least I’ll have something to do in the meantime.”
The juggling act that is college hockey — or college and hockey, in Carrick’s case — wasn’t as easy for 2011 draftee Garrett Haar. Haar, entering his junior year at Western Michigan, was declared academically ineligible for the fall semester, meaning he will be unable to play in the first half of the Broncos’ season.
Haar, 19, didn’t shy away from questions about his academic issues at development camp, sitting patiently, if a bit sheepishly, at his locker as he took ownership of the situation.
“I’m not going to make any excuses… I didn’t really realize the consequences that were going to come with it, and now I’m facing them,” Haar said. “It [stinks], but that’s the situation I’m going to have to live with and I’m just taking it day by day and trying to make an improvement.”
Haar added that he did well in his first two summer classes at Western Michigan, and will spend that fall semester working out, practicing with the team, and pulling his grades up.