Joey Strada did not start playing hockey as early, or from the same motivations as many of the players he competes with today in junior hockey.
The Des Moines Buccaneers forward received a pair of inline skates for his seventh birthday, originally intended for his extreme sports interest.
Strada quickly developed a proficiency for roller hockey on those skates. A quick transition to ice hockey followed, and Strada was soon moving past an early interest in BMX bike racing and devoting his energies to a sport that has taken him from his home state of Arizona to South Dakota, and now to Iowa, where he’s wrapping up his final year of junior hockey before returning to Arizona.
Strada, a 20-year-old from Scottsdale, has committed to Arizona State University, where he will report next fall.
After three seasons with the Aberdeen Wings in the North American Hockey League, Strada elected to spend his final year of junior hockey one level up, playing for the Buccaneers in the United States Hockey League. Heading into this weekend’s games, Strada is leading the highest level of U.S. junior hockey in goals.
“I was doing pretty well in roller hockey, so a year later I started playing ice hockey,” Strada said. “I played with the Junior Coyotes, then when I was 15, I moved to Maryland to play for the (Baltimore) Skipjacks.
“I got my scholarship to ASU out of a camp following that summer.”
Strada continued playing hockey in South Dakota, spending three full seasons with the Aberdeen Wings in the NAHL, hitting double figures in goals each season while producing a total of 144 regular-season points. He had 10 points in the 2018-19 postseason while helping the Wings to a Robertson Cup title.
“Aberdeen was a huge part of my junior career,” Strada said. “ASU kind of told me, and I kind of felt the same thing myself, that I needed to take the next step to get ready for college and I decided to come and play in the USHL.”
The 5-foot-4, 147-pounder is not just playing in the only USA Hockey Tier I league. He is thriving in it.
Strada had four goals in a road game against the Tri-City Storm Nov. 9 as part of a six-game goal-scoring streak.
“I’ve always been the smallest guy on my team,” said Strada, who has 13 goals and five assists in 18 games. “I was never taller than anyone else I played with growing up. I’ve been used to it. I love being small.
“There’s different parts of my game that I can use that bigger guys can’t. I try to focus on my skills and obviously I’ve got to be a little stronger because of being smaller. It’s never really been a problem, but I do have to work a little harder.”
Strada has played throughout the season with linemates Mason Nevers and Matt Choupani, who have eight and seven assists respectively.
“They’re really good passers,” Strada said. “I try to get open for them and they do the same for me.
“It’s going well. There’s obviously a little luck in there, too, and my teammates are a huge part of it.”
Des Moines is second in the Western Conference with a 9-6-0-1 record and is the highest scoring of the eight teams in the conference.
“The coaches give us a game plan for each game,” Strada said. “We watch video of every team.
“Pretty much, when we do what we need to do — play smart, hard and together — we win games.”
Story from Red Line Editorial.
Photo Credit: Michaela Schnetter Des Moines Buccaneers