Working our way into mid-July, unrestricted free agency continues to be the only real hype the NHL garners at this time of the year. With all the trades, deals, and new contracts being signed, I thought I’d focus on gaining some insight into the league’s future stars.
I got the chance to speak with three fresh NHL draftees last week; Zac Dalpe, Justin Schultz, and Brandon Burlon, and each was eagerly excited about their up and coming careers in the National Hockey League.
Justin Shultz went 43rd overall to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Zac Dalpe to the Carolina Hurricanes 45th, and 52nd to the New Jersey Devils was Brandon Burlon. Since being drafted, the boys have been busy getting a lot of attention.
Aside from celebrating and receiving much praise and congratulations, they’ve been lending their time to answering interview questions, have witnessed their Facebook accounts light up with many new requests, and already have friends thinking they owe them free tickets. But they don’t seem to mind it at all, Dalpe is nonchalant, saying it comes with the territory and, “it’s flattering”. Justin Schultz would agree, “it’s all been fun”.
Zac Dalpe grew up in the small town of Paris, Ontario. He credits his country roots for laying a solid foundation to start a hockey career. At 6’1”, weighing in at 170 lbs, Dalpe wasn’t always built this way. His friends used to call him ‘bones’ because of his 5’5” 110 lb frame. “When you’re smaller you learn to rely on your speed,” and that’s exactly what he did. Doubling as a center man and right winger, Zac took full advantage of his raw skills - speed, shot and passionate play.
He has always mimicked his favorite player Joe Sakic, aspiring to play hockey his way. He has more often been compared to the likes of Jeff Carter, though. Carter’s work ethic, knowledgeable play, scoring ability, and speed seem to resemble his style of play most. Both were also ranked as top skaters in North America by the Central Scouting Service at the time of their drafts - Zac 16th overall and Carter 12th.
Skating on the frozen pond out back of the house with his two brothers also helped in toughening him up. As it is with any hockey player, some of his fondest childhood memories came from playing pond hockey. However, the most memorable moment for Zac so far was going undefeated and winning back to back OMHA championships with his minor team, the Paris Wolfpack, which hadn’t been done in over 24 years.
Justin noted his most memorable moment as being his first junior game when he scored the OT game winning goal, and for Brandon it was winning gold in the Canada Winter Games with Team Ontario’s U-17 team.
Being a smaller player and coming from a smaller town, Dalpe learned to take nothing for granted. “You learn to appreciate things more when you start off small,” he commented. Burlon is also from a small town - Nobleton, Ontario, population 3,000. Both would agree that everyone in the community is very supportive, and they feel almost like celebrities now.
Burlon said half the town showed up for his draft party, and Dalpe was asked to pose for pictures and sign autographs at his younger brother’s graduation ceremony.
Zac only started gaining the recognition he deserved after a massive 6-inch growth spurt over the course of one summer. With this, his career began to skyrocket. He made the move from AAA to Junior B playing for the Stratford Cullitons. The transition from the minor leagues to junior was one of the toughest for Zac, “I was so small at the time… they were bigger, meaner, and older.”
Last season, Dalpe played for the Penticton Vees in British Columbia. As a rookie, he had an impressive season finishing 3rd overall for the team in points with 27 goals, 36 assists, and only six penalty minutes. Having played a total of 46 games, that’s an average of 1.4 points per game.
The Junior A team were BCHL champs, finishing the 07/08 season at the top of the league with a 41-15-2 record (wins, loses, and ties consecutively).
The move to British Columbia definitely wasn’t a tough one for Dalpe, he was “livin’ the dream” as the boys would say. The BCHL gave him the opportunity to meet a lot more people, and receive great exposure. Shultz also played in the BCHL as the league’s top defenseman, on the Westside Warriors. Kyle Beach, Luke Schenn, Colin Long, Tyler Myers, Brandon McMillan, and Brett Hextall are among the other draft picks hailing from the West Coast.
Dalpe was invited to play at the 2007 World Junior A Challenge for Canada West as well. Here he attracted a lot of attention from scouts with his ability to put the puck in the net, scoring a hat trick in the championship game helping Canada West pick up the gold medal. Justin Schultz was also a member of the gold medal team, and Brandon Burlon, having come from the St. Mike’s Buzzer’s OHL team, walked away with a 2nd place silver medal playing for Canada East.
When asked what kind of career they would hope to pursue outside of playing hockey, Dalpes, Shultzy, and Burly all agreed some form of business would be suitable. But school has never been anything more than a back up plan, it’s always been about hockey and being able to do something they love for a living.
Neither of the three will be playing in any league games next season though, as they are committed to playing under the terms of their individual colleges’ scholarship. Dalpe for Ohio State with an undeclared major, Shultz for Wisconsin also undetermined, and Burlon for Michigan studying Literature, Science and the Arts.
Competing as elite athletes, health and diet are essential for each of them. As growing 18 year olds, strength is among one of their weaker assets, and the development of muscle is especially important.
Watching what they eat, training hard, and taking every opportunity they can to be active are among some of the ways they stay fit. Shultz would recommend to “always do more than the other guy that’s competing for a spot on the same team as you,” and keeps his favorite quote in mind, “Pain is weakness leaving the body” (the United States Army Corps motto).
As far as diet is concerned, Dalpe now eats upwards of six meals a day in an effort to continue packing on pounds - a difficult task after such a large growth spurt. “Anything you put in front of me I’ll eat,” he says. He hits the gym six days a week, and has at least two days of on-ice training.
His motivation: being told he wasn’t good enough.
“Sometime’s you feel like the world’s out to get you…you have to have thick skin…surround yourself with positive people.” He’s defiantly been proving everyone wrong with his dedication and hard work. The boys’ advice is simple really…just never give up.
Their biggest idols have to be their fathers. Each of the them credits their dad as being one of the most influential people in their lives. “My dad was the one who introduced me to hockey and guided me through it all,” Burlon says. Emotions running high on draft day, Dalpe saw his dad cry for the first time since he could remember.
With family and friends by their side, they eagerly awaited their names to be called. When the time finally came to throw the jersey over their shoulders for the first time, the moment was surreal and unbelievable for each of them.
Many mock drafts had predicted Zac to go in the first round, but with a significantly larger number of trades than last year, his position of selection continued to be bumped down the line. He stayed positive with a bit of advice from his mother.
She handed him a small piece of paper on the morning of the draft that read, “Always believe,” encouraging words she used whenever he was going through a rough point. To him, it wasn’t a huge disappointment going in the second round, he was just happy to make it as far as he did, “Beggers can’t be choosers,” he says.
With his easy-going and humble nature, Zac’s greatest attribute has to be his character. At the NHL combine, he was invited to meet with 26 teams for brief interviews; and his character assessment was one of the best amongst the draftees.
His persona blew me away; a maturity level far more advanced than his counterparts, a good head on his shoulders, his priorities in check, and a down to earth personality. He is totally laid back, and maintains composure, laughing off any awkward questions. Zac is focused, driven, and committed, showing the true makings of a superstar.
The boys plan to enjoy their summers with a few rounds of golf, but their main focus will be to train and working out. Each will attend their draft team’s training camp, alongside some of the best in the league.
Nervous, yet excited to get a taste of what it’s really like in the NHL, Burlon feels that, “it’s a chance to prove myself against other draftees and promote myself for down the road.” And Dalpe just can‘t wait, “When you’re a small guy, you compete harder, you get established that way, you bring it every shift.”