June 11, 2013 by conteconfidential
California is known for a lot of things—Hollywood, surfing, The Beach Boys, to name only a few. Producing ice hockey standouts, until recently, wasn’t one of them.
“We’re starting to produce more players,” said future Boston College defenseman Scott Savage. “We’re no longer the surfer boys who can’t play hockey.”
Now, some of the players who got their start in the 1990s, back in the era of Wayne Gretzky and the early years of the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks, are coming of age and putting California youth hockey on the map.
In 2010, Beau Bennett became the highest drafted California-born-and-trained player when he was picked 20th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Former LA Selects winger Emerson Etem was selected nine picks later by the Ducks. Both made their NHL debut this season.
Savage has experienced the hockey boom in California first hand. He’s one of its success stories, and, like most hockey players born in the Golden State, his story is far from traditional.
At four, Savage’s family moved to San Clemente, a small city on the coast between San Diego and Los Angeles. As it turned out, there was a roller-hockey rink not far from his new home.
The roller-hockey rink would become his home away from home. Even though he started ice skating at eight, it took him two years to trade in his roller-hockey skates. At 10, he played for the Yorba Linda Blackhawks, a squirt team that gave him his first taste of organized ice hockey.
In 27 USHL games this season, Scott Savage had two goals, two assists and a plus/minus rating of +4. (photo credit: Tom Sorensen)
The rest is history. After that promising first season, Savage joined the LA Selects, one of the premier programs in the state.
“That’s where I really grew and found my niche,” he said. “It got me to where I am today.”
In his final season with the LA Selects, Savage racked up 24 points in 31 games playing for the U-16 team. The USA National Team Development Program took notice, and he earned a spot on the U-17 team for the 2011-2012 season.
Transitioning from midget to juniors wasn’t easy at first. Relatively inexperienced because of his late start, Savage had a hard time adjusting to the USHL’s faster pace and highly-skilled play. But he kept working and took advantage of the NTDP’s many resources.
“What you put in is what you get out,” Savage said. “All the stuff that we did there really made me grow on and off the ice a great amount.”
As Savage grew more comfortable, he grew more confident. And soon he and his young teammates started seeing results.
“My highlight was our first win in Russia,” Savage said. “We won the Four Nations. Hearing the anthem with the guys for the first time was by far one of my greatest hockey experiences ever.”
While the Four Nations Tournament was the highlight of Savage’s U-17 year, he played some of his best hockey later that season at the U-17 World Challenge. In five games, he tallied three assists to help the U.S. win silver.
This year, Savage primarily played for the U-18 team. In 55 games with the U-18 squad, he had one goal and six assists. In five games with the U-17 team, he had two goals. Overall, he totaled 29 penalty minutes.
“Scotty is a very smart defenseman,” said NTDP teammate Steven Santini. “He competes really hard, and that’s a big part of his game.”
At 6-feet and 168 pounds, Savage isn’t the biggest blueliner, but he still relishes contact. Though most scouts consider him a little raw, he has impressed with his mobility, willingness to jump into the play and steadiness in his own end.
“I’ve been compared to Rob Scuderi,” Savage said. “I like to be a two-way defenseman. I like to get up in the play when I can and try to provide some offense, but I also like to be a responsible defenseman in the defensive end.”
In October, Scott Savage went to the inaugural CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game, along with future Eagles Ian McCoshen, Steven Santini and Ryan Fitzgerald. Savage led all players with three blocked shots. (photo credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)
When it came time to pick a college, Savage knew exactly where he wanted to be.
“I love the city of Boston,” he said. “I knew if I was given the opportunity to be able to play there someday, I would take it.”
Because of its academics, storied hockey history and campus feel, Savage chose BC over rival Boston University. He’s excited to play with U-18 teammates Santini and Thatcher Demko. (Senior Bill Arnold and sophomore Brendan Silk are also alumni of the NTDP.)
“It’s going to be great to play with them again,” Savage said. “Steve is one of the best guys I’ve ever played with. He’ll do anything for you on the ice. Thatcher, being from California, it’ll be fun to have another Cali boy there with me.”
Right now, it’s unclear if Savage will start right away. Veterans Isaac MacLeod, Michael Matheson and Teddy Doherty are all but guaranteed starting spots, and fellow freshmen Ian McCoshen and Santini are expected to jump in right away.
Savage will likely vie with sophomores Colin Sullivan and Travis Jeke for the final spot on the blueline.
“I’m just trying to prepare myself as much as I can,” he said. “We’ll see when we get on campus. I hope to make a good impact as a freshman.”
As for the upcoming NHL draft, Savage isn’t a lock to be picked, although some have him projected to be taken in the sixth or seventh round.
“I hope to get drafted at some point,” he said. “It’s not the end of the world if I don’t, but my goal is to play in the NHL so I would definitely love to be drafted.”
Whether Savage joins an elite and growing group of Californians drafted or not, one thing’s for sure. If he keeps having success, he might just help to inspire the next generation of Golden State stars.
“Guys are giving back,” Savage said. “Kids are starting to play more and more. We just have to continue to give back and help grow the game as much as we can.”
By Jen Dobias