Junior A hockey can be a passionate affair for those who embrace their local team.
But for the players on the Victoria Grizzlies, participation at the junior level can also be the gateway to educational and playing opportunities that put them one step closer to the goal of playing in the NHL.
That’s certainly the case for T.J. Friedman, the powerhouse forward who recently agreed to a scholarship with the Quinnipiac Bobcats NCAA Division 1 Hockey Club in Connecticut.
“I’ve been away from home playing hockey since I was 16 years old when I went to the American Hockey League,” explained the St. Louis, Missouri native.
“But I’ve been playing forever back home and always dreamed of getting a scholarship and of playing professionally one day. I guess I’m just one step closer now.”
Friedman said he’d been in negotiation with Quinnipiac for some time, initially coming into contact with the team a couple of years ago when he met team representative Joe Dumais before joining the Grizzlies in November 2016.
“I’d met him a couple of years ago and now he’s with Quinnipiac, where he went to school, and in early December he reached out to me and we were able to make a deal,” Friedman said.
But he isn’t the only Grizzlies player to earn a scholarship.
“Last year we had 11 players go off to scholarships, eight of them to NCAA schools. This year I know of four or five who are currently in negotiations with schools and I wouldn’t be surprised to see guys like Matt Duran, Zack Rose and Justin Michaelian finalizing some deals very soon,” said head coach Craig Didmon.
“They come here aspiring to get a scholarship and they know they’ll be getting a lot of exposure as we, a lot of times, have the school reps watching our games. Every game there are schools in the stands and for some of our guys it’s just a matter of choosing what school they want to go to.”
Friedman noted the players are acutely aware of the presence of scouts in the stands, but didn’t think that really added to the pressure the players feel during games.
“Of course you never know who’s watching you when you play, but you just kind of push that aside and make sure you’re doing your best every night. You’re playing for the team, not the scouts.”
But there is more good news for Grizzlies fans.
While Friedman will be going to the Quinnipiac Bobcats for the 2019-20 season, the Grizzlies will still have the use of the 6’3” right hander for the time being. Since gearing up for the Grizzlies, Friedman has played 75 regular season games with the team and complied 26 goals and 37 assists.
“I am very happy for T.J. He has not only contributed on offense but is also a very smart defensive centreman as well. With his size and ability and dedication to the game, I’m excited about where T.J.’s career will eventually lead to,” Didmon said.