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Thursday, April 17, 2014

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Players take different routes to NCAA Division 1 teams

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Jesse Schwartz

Two young hockey players are taking substantially different paths to Division 1 hockey careers in NCAA schools

Daniel Leavens will be the first to lace up his skates for a top NCAA school; next season the 18-year-old forward will make the jump from the Newmarket Hurricanes of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL) to Robert Morris University (RMU) in Pittsburgh.

Jesse Schwartz is taking a different route; he’ll play with the University of Connecticut, but that won’t happen until the 2014 season. And instead of making the jump to the NCAA from junior, as many talented Canadians do, right now he’s studying and playing hockey at the South Kent Prep School in Connecticut. And after that, he’d like to get another year of seasoning under his belt in the USHL or the BC Hockey League before he makes the move to Division 1.

Schwartz, 18, is already living away from home, residing in a dorm, hanging out with the guys, getting used to life on his own. For someone who’s only been away at overnight camp, it’s an adjustment.

“Here it’s different. I’m away from my family and friends. You have to adapt to it quick, because you’re here for the whole year.”

“I worked my butt off to get the scholarship” to UConn, Schwartz added.

Schwartz had some options before choosing the prep school/NCAA route. He was drafted by the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, but “if I’d step foot in an OHL game, I’d have lost my NCAA eligibility,” he said.

But patience is a virtue and he chose to join UConn, which will be moving to Hockey East, considered the best division in U.S. college hockey, from the Atlantic Hockey Conference.

In the meantime, Schwartz is working on his game; like other guys of junior age (16-19), he’s focusing on his “explosiveness,” the first three steps a player takes from a stop. Getting to maximum speed as quickly as possible is pretty much the holy grail when skating skills are considered.

As to the rest of his game, Schwartz describes himself as “an all-round player; a two-way forward. I focus on the defensive end as much as the offensive end,” he said.

In around 50 games with South Kent – the calibre of hockey is comparable to major midget back home – he’s racked up 21 goals and added 52 assists. He’s around 50 per cent in the faceoff circle and he’s been told by UConn coaches he has “good vision” and is “good positionally.”

Schwartz, who attended CHAT for a couple of years after spending six years at USDS Bathurst, was selected to the Canadian Maccabiah hockey team as an alternate. Hockey will return to the Games, which are scheduled for July.

For Schwartz, it will be his second time playing at the Canada Centre in Metulla.  He competed in the World Jewish Cup there a few years ago.

Leavens, meanwhile, is playing in Ontario, leading the Hurricanes in points; after 51 games, he’s scored 23 goals and added 43 assists for 66 points.

The combination of Leavens, Brandon Francisco and Chris Chiste is Newmarket’s top line. “We’re very offensive,” said Leavens. “All three are good at putting the puck in the net, making good plays…We like to skate with the puck and keep possession of it.”

Leavens, 19, enjoys his role as playmaker. “I take pride in making the good pass, setting up a nice goal,” he said.

“At six-foot-two, Daniel will add size to our forwards as well as a much coveted right hand shot, which we are in short supply of,” said RMU Colonials assistant coach Matt Nicholson.

“Daniel was a member of Team Canada East at the 2011 World Junior ‘A’ Challenge and this speaks to his ability to play at a high level with other elite players. Arguably the best quality that Daniel possesses is his versatility. Positionally, he can play on the wing or up the middle at the centre position, he skates well, has soft hands to make plays and a quick release that adds to his hard, accurate shot.”

Team Canada East won the silver medal at the Challenge; Leavens was also a member of Team OJHL North at the Central Canada Cup All-Star Challenge, again winning silver. However, as a member of Mississauga Rattlers, he won a gold medal at the Ontario Junior A Inline League, two years in a row, and as a member of the Israeli Stars of David, a collection of Jewish players competing in the Canadian Multicultural Hockey Championships, he won the title twice.

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