Caleb Schroer knows what it’s like to have to scramble just to get into a North American Hockey League lineup.
That made receiving the NAHL Midwest Division Most Valuable Player and Forward of the Year awards particularly satisfying for Schroer, a Coulee Region Chill forward who will celebrate his 21st birthday on Sunday.
“I’m not going to lie. I was proud,” Schroer said of when he learned about the award. “I put in a lot of hard work. I put a lot of years into this sport. It’s great to see when your hard work pays off.”
Schroer, the NAHL’s fourth-leading scorer, understands that he did not do it alone.
“We had a really good club,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that had to fall into place for me to get that award. We had a lot of good players.
“It wasn’t just me carrying the award.”
Coulee Region went 31-27-2-0 to finish fourth in the Midwest and earn a playoff spot where it was swept in three games, including two overtime decisions, by the division champion Janesville Jets.
Schroer knows that to contribute to a winning team, one has to first make it into the mix with that team.
The 5-foot-9 forward entered junior hockey after setting all the career scoring records at Lincoln High School in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. At Lincoln, Schroer averaged more than a goal and assist per game throughout his career, led the team to the state quarterfinals as a junior and put up nearly four points per game as a senior.
From there, he headed to Fairbanks for the 2014-15 season, which came between Robertson Cup title runs by the Ice Dogs.
“It was tough to even get in the lineup there, so I think that was a learning curve for me,” said Schroer, who had six points while dressing for only 22 games as an NAHL rookie. “Throughout the three years, I stuck with it and I got bigger, I got better and I learned some things.”
Progress could be seen last season. After scoring just one point in 10 games for Fairbanks, Schroer moved on to Coulee Region where he had 12 goals and 11 assists in 45 games.
That was just the beginning.
This season, Schroer’s numbers climbed to 26 goals and 41 assists. He was a threat to score even on the penalty kill, where he led the league in both short-handed goals and short-handed assists with five of each.
“I got in the right spot at the right time, played with some good players and everything just worked out this year,” said Schroer, who said there were times of uncertainty, even with the Chill, before getting to that point. “You have times when you wonder if you’re even going to stay on the club or not.”
With his junior eligibility used up, Schroer will move on to college hockey. He is talking to some NCAA Division I schools that have shown interest in him with his late surge, but will play on the Division III level if none of those work out.
Schroer hopes that recruiters see him as a different player than the one who entered junior hockey more than 2 ½ years ago.
“I think I was stronger as a physical player and I think my confidence has helped,” he said. “Confidence is the biggest thing. I got a good year going and it just grew on that.
“I think I always had the skill to do it. When you realize you can do it at this level, that really boosts your game.”
Schroer was one of four divisional MVPs named as part of the NAHL postseason award process.
Paul Cotter, the league’s overall Rookie of the Year from the Brookings Blizzard, was named from the Central Division.
Frankie Melton from the Shreveport Mudbugs was selected in the South Division.
Aston Rebels goalie Mareks Mitens, the NAHL’s overall MVP, was named in the East Division.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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