It could be an interesting start to college hockey for North Bay's Cole Craft.
The 20-year-old forward is going into his freshman year with the Lake Superior State Lakers NCAA Division I Hockey team located in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
It's hard for him not to take a peek at the schedule where the Lakers, in their second weekend of regular-season action, travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan to take on the mighty Michigan Wolverines possibly equipt with the first overall selection in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft in Owen Power, potentially Matt Beniers, taken second overall by the expansion Seattle Kraken, Luke Hughes, taken fourth overall by the New Jersey Devils and forward Kent Johnson, fifth overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Craft, comes to the Lakers after an interesting COVID-19 season with the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League; considered USA's version of the CHL.
"My year in Lincoln was very eventful, it was a big step for me especially coming from the CCHL just in terms of play and everything is done on an every day basis," Craft said.
"I learned that pretty quick there. I learned about the ups and downs of a season whereas other times I felt I was just easy going as things in the CCHL would not have been as hard at times.
"The USHL pushes you to go every single day. I would say 95 per cent of the players in that league are committed to various NCAA Division I schools. They pushed me to be better and I obviously got to play with some better players. That is not a knock on any of my teammates in Rockland but there is just a lot more depth in that league for sure. You can see that from the NHL draft from year to year."
The 6'2", 194-pound forward netted nine goals and five assists for 14 points in 47 games with the Stars last year after a pair of successful years with the Rockland Nationals where he was named the captain at the CJHL Prospects game along with getting named to Team Canada East's silver medal squad of 2019.
Craft says moving to the U.S. last season was helpful as he starts the new chapter of his hockey career at Lake State.
"The big thing getting up here early is just getting accustomed to - kind of being on my own and getting into that stage where I have to look for myself as well as keep training and getting on the ice, as well as getting into the gym with a bunch of the guys," said Craft who moved down to the Michigan Sault in early August.
"That has been a huge benefit fo me so far in my short time here."
Craft comes in with another possible year of junior hockey eligibility left. Despite his youth, Craft is hoping to make an impact in year one.
"I want to come in and I want to play," said the former North Bay AAA Trappers forward.
"I want to be as much of an impact player right off the bat. At the same time I want to gain as much experience and learn from a lot of the older guys here. Especially since there are guys on the team 24 turning 25 years old so there is obviously a lot to learn and there is a lot to soak up. It is just what I have been doing so far."
Craft did not know many players or coaches at Lake Superior State but he notes that the hockey world is small.
"Everyone here has played with or knows someone you know," admits Craft.
"One incoming freshman who is just arriving this week; when I was drafted by Sarnia in 2017, I believe it was 2018 when Josh Nixon was a free agent invite to Sarnia's camp. It is kind of weird, here we are crossing paths again and we are starting this next chapter at the same spot. "
As a late bloomer, Craft believes the college hockey route is the right one for him despite the fact his father Glenn Craft, played OHL hockey with the Hamilton Dukes in the late 1980s.
"The biggest thing for me and my family was the education part," noted Craft.
"There was a time when I wanted to play in the OHL.Growing up in North Bay with the Battalion right in our backyard it was definitely the path I wanted to take but school has always been a big thing for me. Being able to go to school and get a degree and play a high level of college hockey - have the opportunity to continue to grow as a player - hopefully I get to that next level after my career here."