"I felt we made a mistake in building a baseball field. I thought that should have been the ice skating rink, because I think hockey in this state right now, not just hockey, but ice skating, if you come up to our office building at 6:00 in the morning, some mornings you can't get a parking spot because parents have taken their kids up here to skate...I think hockey will be a great addition to our intercollegiate program. [The Pegula gift] is a great, great gift. And I think very far-sighted and I'm really pleased with it." - Joe Paterno

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Conversation With Luke Juha

On Wednesday evening, 2012 recruit Luke Juha, a defenseman from Mississauga, ON, graciously spent a little time talking to TYT. We reviewed his career to this point, his style and hockey influences, the twists and turns of his decision to play college hockey (not to mention those involved with the selection of a particular school), his plans for this season and his NHL draft prospects as well as those of a few of his high-profile former teammates.

I left the conversation with little doubt that Penn State is getting a quality individual who will be a true asset to the program, both on and off the ice.

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Thank You Terry: Let’s start by going back to when you were 16. You’re drafted by Guelph in the Ontario League [in the fifth round] and could’ve played there, but decided to stay in Junior A. Talk a little bit about that decision.

Luke Juha: Well, it’s definitely out of the norm for Ontario players. I really defied convention when I decided to go the NCAA route, and I was supposed to go possibly late first, early second in the OHL draft, and I think my draft suffered a bit because of it – my draft position.

The OHL’s a great way to go, but you know, I thought the NCAA route was the right choice for me, just because I love the team atmosphere there. Education is still very important to me, and I also love the camaraderie of NCAA hockey. There’s no trades, and the best part about it is that you also get two extra years of development, sometimes three, for the NHL. If you go to the OHL, NHL teams have to sign you when you’re 20, or your career’s pretty much over. You go play AHL, or even the East Coast League, or in Europe. In the NCAA, you get two extra years, you can sign at 24. Being a smaller guy, it’d be more beneficial to me to get those extra two years of growth and development.

TYT: You committed to Clarkson last year. But I did see somewhere – I forget where I saw it – that you had Princeton on your final list. Was there a connection with Coach Gadowsky early in the process?

LJ: Oh yeah, 100 percent. I got recruited by a lot of schools as a 16-year-old, and I took a long time to decide to go to Clarkson. Princeton was my second choice, and a huge part of that was because of Gadowsky. The big thing lacking at Princeton was the fan support and the academic support from the school. At Penn State, obviously we’re going to get them. But going back to Gadowsky, Fisher and Lindsay, they’re great guys and they have a track record of developing players to the NHL, in particular, offensive defensemen. So I’m definitely excited to come to Penn State and be coached by them.

TYT: Yeah, I mean, you listen to Gadowsky talk about the system he likes to play, and I read a little bit about how you like to play, and I’m like hey, that works out pretty well, it seems like you’d be a good fit.

LJ: For sure, yeah, I take everything into consideration, and he plays an upbeat possession game, and that’s kind of how I want to play. I want to have the puck as much as I can, and move up in the play with the forwards, and try to make offensive opportunities.

TYT: So then a year passes, you have a good year in Junior A, but then Clarkson makes a coaching change. Is that the biggest reason you decided to start looking around?

LJ: Yeah, there’s a coaching change – I loved the coaches there. The assistant coach and the head coach, George Roll and Greg Drechsel, got fired. I had committed there for almost a year and two months, so it was kind of a blow to me. Clarkson’s still a great option, I just felt that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity at Penn State with Gadowsky, Fisher and Lindsay coaching.


TYT: Penn State then enters the picture, obviously the coaches are there, were there other things that drew you to the school?

LJ: I didn’t know much about it until obviously, there’s a coaching change and I started looking around. But the academics are great, Penn State’s ranked 41st in North America academically. The fan support, even at the football games, they get great support. I heard Penn State’s just an all-around great school to be at, a great experience, and finally, just the fact that we’re starting up a new program. I really want to be a part of that because I think it’s going to be something special.

TYT: It’s going to be pretty cool. I’ve been around it a little bit, and everyone’s just kind of waited for this moment, and you being one of the first group in there, it’s going to be pretty nuts I think.

LJ: Definitely. Even with the rink coming up, it didn’t impact my decision but I feel like the rink’s really going to bring a new life to the program.

TYT: It’s just too bad you’ll have to play a year in the old rink first.

LJ: When I came down, I saw it, but I feel like it’ll still be special because it’s the first year.

TYT: Yeah, it’ll be a different atmosphere.

LJ: And then the second year, you get to come in with the new rink and there will be a new buzz. So there’s two years of this huge buzz around the hockey program.

TYT: Now obviously you like Penn State enough that you’re delaying going to college for a year. Are you sticking with the [OJHL’s Burlington] Cougars this season?

LJ: Actually no, I’m going to play – they’re just finalizing the deal – with the [BCHL’s] Vernon Vipers right now. I’m going to go play there. They’ve had a great program.

TYT: Yeah, they’re pretty good. [The Vipers have won four RBC Cups, symbolic of Canada’s Junior A national championship, including in 2009 and 2010.]

LJ: I guess you know about it, yeah. Those coaches there are both great coaches, [Mark] Ferner and [Jason] Williamson, and I’m excited to be coached by them as well. And hopefully make a run for the RBC.

TYT: They actually got upset by Jonathan Milley, another guy that’s coming in with you there, and his team [the CCHL's Pembroke Lumber Kings at the RBC Cup this past year].

I saw somebody on a message board compare you to Tomas Kaberle and you listed Nicklas Lidstrom as your favorite player. Is that who you’d most compare your style to?

LJ: I guess you could talk about Lidstrom and Kaberle, both of them are great players and they both have great poise with the puck, and make great first passes. That’s what I try to do, and I also try to jump in the rush and make odd-man rushes. It’s important to generate offense, even as a defenseman. So I try to pattern myself around those guys, those types of players.

TYT: Speaking of the NHL, you do have a chance of being drafted this weekend. What have you heard or what are your expectations about that?

LJ: You know, I haven’t talked to many NHL teams. It’d be great to get drafted, and I know I’m on some teams’ radar, but it’s not going to change the game I play. There’s a huge cliché that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I definitely believe that even if I don’t get drafted this year, I have two more years to get drafted. It’s not going to affect how I train and play on the ice. It’s a good feather in the hat, but at the end of the day, my goal’s still going to be playing in the NHL and developing.

In Ontario, I think it hurt my draft a bit that I’m playing in Junior A hockey, because it’s not the best league. It’s definitely not as good as the BCHL and the USHL. There’s a negative stigma about it in Ontario, so that’s part of the reason why.

TYT: And you talked about going the college route, which gives you a little bit of extra development time.

LJ: Oh yeah, I still think it’s the best option for me, and I have no regrets whatsoever. And even being coached by Coach Gadowsky, Fisher and Lindsay, those guys have developed those players. Hopefully they can help me develop even further into a potentially great NHL player.


TYT: Even if you don’t get drafted, you have a little bit of a reason to watch, other than for yourself. You have those other four guys [Ryan Strome, Michael Curtis, Evan Rodrigues and Steven Strong] – you played together for seven years [with the Toronto Marlies organization]. A couple of them are going to go, one maybe a first-rounder, one maybe a middle round. That has to be pretty exciting too.

LJ: I know a bunch of the guys, Ryan Strome, [Stuart] Percy, Brett Ritchie. It’s going to be interesting to see, and I’m hoping they all do well and go to the teams they want to go to, I’ll definitely keep an eye on that. They’re all great players, and I wish them the best.

TYT: I saw that Evan Rodrigues is going to [Boston University] – kind of hoping they show up on the schedule at some point?

LJ: You know, I work out with him every day, we go to the same high school, he’s my best friend, so I hope we play them in the next four years because I definitely want to get a chance to beat him. We’ve got a little rivalry going for sure.

TYT: Obviously, BU’s a great program, so I hope you guys beat them too.

LJ: Yeah, exactly. It’s funny you say that because we were actually talking about it today at the gym. We were talking about potentially playing each other. I’m definitely excited to come down and start playing and build the program into something special.

2 comments:

  1. You have done an excellent job profiling the players that have committed to the D1 program. Do you plan on reviewing the current roster of Icers and predicting who will make the 2011 - 12 team?

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  2. Thanks, sincerely appreciate it!

    I've had the idea for doing something like what you mentioned in my back pocket for a while now, but I'm sort of waiting to see how things shake out with the incoming class. As diligent as I try to be, I'm almost positive that there's someone out there who's slipped through the cracks - that's just the reality of college hockey recruiting news right now versus football and basketball, where I can pop on Scout, Rivals or 247 and be 99% confident in what I see.

    The good news for current Icers is that things probably aren't as dire as I predicted for this year, if you go on what's known. We carried four goalies last year, lost two and are bringing two in. We had 10 Ds last year, lost only Bell, but only have two coming in if Brandon Russo's a 2012 (I've seen it both ways). Forward is where the battles will be with 13 of 16 back and eight newcomers. It'd be easy for me to say the 4th line guys and those usually lotto ticketed are on notice, but with an all-new coaching staff, systems, etc. it's not that easy to project it. While I am impressed with what we were able to get pre-Gadowsky considering the circumstances, I don't think you can even pencil them in. Steve Edgeworth told me he had to try out since Gadowsky hadn't seen him play, I imagine that's the case with that whole group.

    Going another year out, there will be 16 pre-DI, non-graduated Icers in 2012-13...that's where it could get messy if recruiting continues like it has lately.

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