Turning Pro: Record Number of Former Huskies Under Contract

Hockey players on the ice
Hockey players on the ice
From left, former Michigan Tech teammates Joel L'Esperance and Mitch Reinke play against against each other in an AHL game earlier this season. The former Huskies are still alive in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Photo courtesy of the Texas Stars)

More than two dozen former Michigan Technological University Huskies played professional hockey this season.

A record number of former Huskies were on the rosters of NHL teams. Mitch Reinke’s call up to the St. Louis Blues for the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs brings the total number of Huskies in the NHL for all or part of the season to eight.

Joining Reinke in the world’s top league were Pheonix Copley, Joel L’Esperance, Tanner Kero, Jujhar Khaira, Blake Pietila, Matt Roy and Angus Redmond. Khaira and Copley spent the entire season with Edmonton and Washington respectively, while most of the others divided their time between the NHL and the American Hockey League (AHL), the NHL’s highest developmental league. While called up to their NHL parent teams, Kero and Redmond did not see any game time. In addition to time on NHL and AHL rosters, Redmond saw action in 17 games with two different teams in the ECHL.

While many of their ex-teammates plied their trade in North America, five former Huskies — Mark Auk, Brett Olson, Steven Seigo, Alex Petan and Bryce Reddick — played on professional teams in Finland, Germany, Austria and the UK.

A Record Season

It’s believed 26 players in pro leagues at the same time is a record for Michigan Tech, but not an anomaly. In fact, the number of professional players coming from NCAA programs has been growing for years.

According to College Hockey Inc., this past season opened with a record 209 former college players on NHL rosters. That didn’t count the nearly 30 players who spent opening night on injured reserved. Over the course of the season, more than 300 NCAA players were expected to find their names on NHL rosters.

It’s been established that more professionals are coming from the college ranks than ever before. But why?

The College Game is Growing

Calvin Larson is director of athletics communication at Michigan Tech and works every home and away hockey game during the regular season and beyond. Larson has seen a lot of college hockey games during the past several years, and a lot of college hockey players.

Larson offered his theory as to why more pros are coming from the college ranks.

“I think the NHL has taken notice of the growth of college hockey and how well our programs are preparing players for the professional level. The NHL has started to hire scouts specifically for college hockey,” Larson says.

He says he met scouts from four different NHL clubs that came to the MacInnes Student Ice Arena this year to scout either Tech players or opponents. “You weren’t seeing those scouts make that trip up here in the past,” Larson says.

From his vantage point, Larson feels the percentage of college hockey players in the professional leagues will only continue to grow.

"The NHL has done a great job of supporting college hockey."Calvin Larson

"They (NHL) recently partnered with the University of Illinois on a feasibility study, for a possible addition of hockey in Champaign, after the success we’ve seen with Penn State and Arizona State. Also, the investment that universities have placed into coaches and arenas has grown immensely in recent years. College student-athletes are now prepared to immediately jump into the NHL, with the growth of strength and conditioning and nutrition resources that college hockey players now have.”

When the Stanley Cup Playoffs began, two former Huskies, Copley and L’Esperance, were still in contention to have their names engraved on the world’s most famous sports trophy. After the first round, Copley’s Capitals were eliminated, but with Reinke’s call up to St. Louis, two Huskies advanced to the second round. With Reinke and the Blues taking on L’Esperance and the Stars, one former Husky will take one step closer to hockey’s biggest prize.

In the 55-year history of the NHL draft, a total of 80 Michigan Tech Huskies have been selected. Most notable is Al Karlander, taken by the Detroit Red Wings in the second round of the 1967 amateur draft, thus becoming the first US college hockey player selected in an NHL draft.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.