States of the Game
do college hockey players come from?
Las Vegas native Micah Sanford stands sixth
on Nebraska-Omaha in scoring with 16 points in 30 games.
of the Game
Rising numbers of players from Europe and non-traditional
hockey areas in the U.S. is changing the face of college hockey.
Breakdown by State, Province and Country
• Breakdown by League:
East | MAAC
many college hockey players who can claim they’ve won two
national championships. Nebraska-Omaha’s Micah Sanford can.
But it’s not what you think.
A freshman forward
from Las Vegas – yeah, that Las Vegas – Sanford
was a U.S. champion in both in-line speed skating and in-line hockey
as a youth. Now, he’s trying to help the Mavericks to the
of schools knew who I was,” Sanford recalls, “but they
thought, ‘He's a kid from Las Vegas.’ Not too many schools
gave me a chance at first.”
route to Division I hockey was a circuitous one. It also makes for
an interesting story.
interest in in-line skating was natural; his father, Larry, owns
three in-line facilities in Las Vegas. The younger Sanford started
playing roller hockey when his dad founded a couple leagues at his
rinks. A house-league goalie at first, he later moved to forward.
As the leagues
grew, so did the level of play and the competitive nature of the
players. Micah and the best players from the house leagues formed
an all-star team and began traveling to tournaments across the country,
eventually winning a national title for their age group.
his 16th birthday, Sanford received an invitation to try out for
a junior B-level ice hockey team in Vegas. Understandably, the transition
from concrete to the frozen pond wasn’t easy.
it at first because I couldn't skate,” he says. “And
I was a really good shooter in roller hockey because the puck was
so light. When I made the transfer, the puck was heavier and my
forearms weren't strong enough to shoot the puck as hard as I wanted
to and where I wanted to.”
game progressed to the point where he joined a midget AAA team in
Vail, Colo. From Vail, he went to British Columbia to play for the
Chilliwack Chiefs in the British Columbia Hockey League. Needless
to say, a kid who was more familiar with Wayne Newton than Wayne
Gretzky growing up was greeted with skepticism by Canada’s
guys don't give me much of a chance,” Sanford says. “They
think, ‘Oh, roller hockey player, he doesn't know what to
do.’ But I think I get their respect slowly by doing things
I can and contributing when I can.”
during his last year with the Chiefs included 49 goals and 107 points
in 59 games. Certainly, his offensive prowess was enough to make
college coaches like Nebraska-Omaha’s Mike Kemp take notice,
even if they still harbored some reservations.
how he can be what he's made out to be,” Kemp says. “But
as a result from playing all that roller hockey, the skills that
he does have – which are great hands and the ability to finish
around the net – come from the roller hockey game because
you're playing in such small areas.”
the attention from college coaches helped elevate Sanford’s
game and give him a boost of confidence in his abilities.
schools started talking to me and it was always, ‘He can't
skate, but he can shoot the puck,’” Sanford says. “I
started talking to more schools and started to think, ‘Hey,
maybe I can play at this level.’”
When Kemp extended
an invitation to come to Nebraska-Omaha, Sanford jumped at the opportunity.
And despite his success at Chilliwack, his new teammates weren’t
quite sure what to think.
about this kid from Nevada and he started by playing roller hockey,”
senior forward Joe Pereira said. “We can't argue with statistics.
He's come in and been productive for us right away.”
been more productive than even he expected. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound
wing is sixth among Mavericks’ skaters with 16 points in 30
been happy to dress every game,” he says. “But then
you score a goal here, get an assist on another and then your confidence
gets a boost and you're rolling.”
While his skating
still needs work – particularly getting up to full speed from
a dead start – Sanford is adept at using his large frame to
shield the puck from defenders and can handle the puck in close
quarters. He’s also got great hands, as evidenced by his quick,
hard shot and exceptional stick-handling ability, and the UNO coaching
staff raves about his commitment and dedication.
looking at him as a guy who's got a huge upside,” Kemp says.
“His potential is really unlimited and we expect that he's
going to be able to make the next step. We've seen a lot of improvements
since the start of the season. He still has a long, long way to
go before he reaches his full potential.”
Though he still
takes ribbing about his background – “We ask him if
he thinks the puck is a round orange ball,” Pereira says –
Sanford has won over his teammates, many of whom are interested
in visiting him at home during the off-season.
that all the time,” Sanford says, smiling. “I've got
friends in Canada that come see me all the time. All my teammates
are looking for a party.”
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