Thursday, October 05, 2006

Elmblad impresses, now a Wolverine

Not long after the Team USA U-17 squad held off the Traverse City North Stars in a decisive Game 5 of last year’s North American Hockey League North Division semifinal playoff series, Eric Elmblad went right back to work. But instead of chasing a NAHL Robertson Cup championship, the St. Ignace native was running down a dream.

“Since I was a kid, it’s been a lifelong dream to play hockey at (University of) Michigan,” said Elmblad, whose indelible image after scoring an overtime clincher in Game 3 of the USA-17 playoff series has become a de facto component of the North Stars’ branding. “I got into the school and deferred my enrollment for two years so I could try to become the kind of hockey player who could make it here. There were some bumps in the road along the way, I guess, but I never really lost sight of that goal.”

Over the summer, Elmblad contacted Wolverines assistant coach Mel Pearson and inquired about getting a look from the U-M coaches as a walk-on. A rigorous training regimen followed, as Elmblad prepared himself to dazzle the Wolverines’ staff.

“We did not recruit him, and I told him right away that it’s pretty tough to make it here as a walk-on, especially given how much depth we have this year,” explained longtime Michigan coach Red Berenson. “That might have discouraged some kids, but it only seemed to make Eric work harder, and that’s something I really admired about him.”

Berenson has seen his share of Wolverines hopefuls come and go over the course of his 23 years in Ann Arbor. And some have helped Berenson win nearly 600 games (eighth in all-time NCAA victories), nine CCHA titles and pair of national crowns. But the coaching legend says Elmblad earned his block ‘M’ sweater the old fashioned way.

“It’s rewarding for me to see a kid work like that toward a goal and reach it,” Berenson added. “Nothing was handed to Eric. He just plain wanted to be here.”

Elmblad had three goals and six assists in 36 games with the North Stars last year after spending 2004-05 with the NAHL champion Texas Tornado. Traverse City head coach Scott Gardiner moved him to forward toward the end of the season and it paid huge dividends in the club’s first-ever home playoff game, won by Elmblad’s tip-in in overtime on April 7.

“It’s big for us as a team, but it’s just a great, great thing for Eric,” Gardiner said. “He worked hard academically to get where he is, and he did the same thing on the ice and look where it got him. We here in Traverse City couldn’t be happier for him or prouder of him. He’s a great kid and he deserves all of it.”

The scholarly Elmblad – who, by the way, is also enrolled in the prestigious U-M School of Engineering – says that his NAHL stint truly helped him prepare as a hockey player intent on playing for the Wolverines.

“Playing in the North American league helped me develop a certain work ethic,” he explained. “I tried to learn how to be strong with the puck and to be able to play a physical game. It’s a good level of competition, and playing there definitely helped my development as a player and a person.”

While the first hurdle – making the team – has been cleared, Elmblad now faces the challenge of securing his share of playing time. But challenges are nothing new to the 6-4, 210-pound defenseman/forward.

“When you come in as a walk-on, you generally start at the bottom of the depth chart,” Berenson said. “And we are very deep on defense, so his work isn’t done. He knows that, and I’m sure that will probably drive him even harder.”


“I’m still in a little bit of shock just making it,” Elmblad admitted. “But there’s a lot of work ahead of me still. But this isn’t something I just decided to try this summer – I’ve been aiming at this for a long, long time. I’m not going to back down from any challenge.”

No comments: