The Minnesota community-based hockey system helped bring Dallas Stars’ defenseman Alex Goligoski to the NHL.
“That’s where I learned how to play,” said Goligoski, who played high school hockey in the early 2000s at tradition-rich Grand Rapids High School in northern Minnesota.
“Like a lot of Minnesota guys, I stayed in high school and played high school hockey there,” he added. “When you look back on it, there are a lot of different avenues to develop, but for me it was good.”
Goligoski, a Minnesota Mr. Hockey finalist, helped his high school team to a runner-up finish in Section 7AA, falling just short of the state tournament at the Xcel Energy Center.
However, he also caught scouts’ attention playing in the Upper Midwest Fall Elite League, where he had the opportunity to augment his winter high school hockey with top-flight competition during seven weekends each fall, in a circuit that attracts top players from Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota while still allowing them to play traditional fall sports. And, after the completion of his junior and senior seasons of high school hockey, Goligoski also extended his development by playing in the United States Hockey League with Omaha and Sioux Falls.
“When you add it all up, you’re playing a lot of hockey, and there are a lot of eyes seeing you,” Goligoski said.
His experience differed from those who go the junior hockey route exclusively or those who play for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program in Michigan, highlighting that there is more than one way to develop as a hockey player.
“The USA program is great, and a lot of guys go there and develop really well,” Goligoski said. “All the players that go there are great and a lot of them have a lot of success, but there are definitely different avenues.
“There’s only a certain amount of guys that can go play there, too, and for me, this worked out great.”
Goligoski didn’t train with the NTDP, but he did play for Team USA at the IIHF World Junior Championship in 2005 and the IIHF Men's World Championship later during his career in 2012.
“There are so many good American players, any time you get a chance to play on a team like that, it’s fun,” Goligoski said. “It’s just a fun experience and an honor to wear the jersey.”
After high school, Goligoski went to the University of Minnesota, an easy choice for him.
“It was where I always wanted to play,” Goligoski said. “I knew that’s where I wanted to be, so I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to go there and jumped on it.”
Goligoski, an alternate captain at Minnesota, was an All-American and WCHA Defensive Player of the Year, forgoing his final year of eligibility in 2007 to sign a professional contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who drafted him out of Grand Rapids High School in the second round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
He joined the Penguins and spent a year with their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before being called up. Goligoski started the 2008-09 season on the roster, capturing a Stanley Cup in 2009 and inking a three-year extension several days later.
“This is where I started as a professional hockey player,” Goligoski said of his time in Pittsburgh. “Your game develops a lot the first couple years you turn pro. You play a certain way and you learn from certain people. They were great to me.
“I was taught the game the right way and I’ll always love [Pittsburgh].”
Now he’s in Dallas after being traded to the Stars in 2011. Goligoski began his fifth full season in Dallas as an alternate captain, joining Vernon Fiddler and captain Jamie Benn for the Stars, who opened the 2015-16 season with wins in eight of their first 10 games.
“It means a lot, and it’s nice to be recognized and have that relationship between the coaches and players,” Goligoski said. “We have a lot of guys that can score here, but it’s a matter of being consistent. It’s nice to get off to a good start, it’s still early, but we’ll try to keep it rolling.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.