Goaltender Josh Unice, a former St. John's Jesuit student, took a long stride toward becoming a professional hockey player with his recent success against international competition.
His work in goal helped Team USA to a silver medal at the under-18 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships in Finland two months ago.
Unice, a 17-year-old from Holland, hopes that translates into his name being called early during the NHL draft this weekend.
"I'm pretty sure it will boost how high I go," Unice said. "A lot of teams are saying they knew I was good and skilled. But they did not realize how good I was until they saw what I accomplished at the world championships. All the top players in my age group were there. I played against tough competition and I showed I'm one of the top goaltenders."
The 2007 NHL entry draft will take place over two days at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. The first round starts at 7 tonight and will be broadcast live on VERSUS. Rounds two through seven will be held tomorrow beginning at 10 a.m., also on VERSUS.
Unice is projected by most recruiting services to be drafted no later than the third round. Yesterday he met with officials from San Jose, Toronto and Phoenix.
"Right now I'm looking at between the third and fourth round," Unice said. "It will be such a great honor when they call my name and give me a jersey and a hat. It will show that all the hard work paid dividends."
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound goalie has signed to play at Bowling Green State University next season. He said no matter where he is drafted he will play at least two seasons for the Falcons, who have struggled in recent years.
"Very few players go right from the draft and play in the NHL," Unice said. "I'm really committed to BG. I wanted to go to a team I could help as a freshman."
Unice, who said he started playing hockey at age 3, attended St. John's for two years but did not play hockey for the Titans. He then moved to Ann Arbor to play for the US National Team Development Program while he attended Huron High School.
In April, Unice was the goaltender for the USA U-18 team that reached the finals of the world championships with wins over Latvia, Germany, Slovakia and Canada. Unice's team lost 5-4 in the final against Russia.
"I felt real good," he said. "The game seemed really slow. It seemed really easy. It was intense. I like pressure games."
Unice was named team MVP and best goaltender at the prestigious tournament.
"That is the highest honor I've ever gotten," Unice said.
Unice's mother, Carol, said Josh steps up in the biggest situations.
"The more pressure the better,"she said. "He loves shootouts. I can't watch, but he rises to the occasion. He brings all he has. When he is in the zone, he is just beautiful to watch."
Splitting playing time with another highly touted goalie, Brad Phillips, Unice appeared in 26 games with Team USA. He finished with a record of 16-7-1-1 and had a 2.96 goals-against average. Unice posted three shutouts and his save percentage was .884.
Unice appeared in 13 games against college teams, finishing with a record of 5-6-1 and a 3.85 GAA. The highlight was a win over Michigan State, the eventual NCAA champ.
"When they won it, we looked back and said, 'Wow, we beat the national champions,'•" Unice said.
Unice is the 15th-ranked North American goaltender by the NHL's Central Scouting. Unice said he has been playing the best hockey of his life.
"Everything's clicking," he said.
USA Today hockey writer Kyle Woodlief ranked Unice third among goaltenders in the draft. According to Woodlief, author of Red Line report, Unice is an "underappreciated netminder."
"Nobody talks about him much and he's not real flashy, but he's got quick feet and competes well, and always gives his team a chance to win," Woodlief wrote.
Unice, who will turn 18 on Sunday, said hearing his name called tomorrow would be the best present he could wish for.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," Unice said. "I don't think it will until after the draft.
"That's when I'll realize all the hard work was definitely worth it."
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