What seemed like a major inconvenience in furthering his hockey career, university hockey turned out to be the break this young man needed to fine-tune his game to prolong his career and set him up for success.
Canadian university hockey can be the end of the road for a lot of athletes aspiring to make a living by shooting a puck, but this young man made the best of his time as a Usport athlete and turned his successful Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) career into a big step toward his goal of playing professional hockey.
Brampton Beast defenceman, Reggie Traccitto, was released from the Ontario Reign of the East Coast Hockey League at the age of 20 in November 2010 and was contemplating his future in the sport of hockey. With no phone calls coming his way to play hockey professionally, Traccitto decided there was only one way to try and prolong his playing career, the Canadian Interuniversity Sports league (CIS).
The CIS, also referred to as Usports, is the sports governing body that promotes the student-athlete experience within Canadian Universities.
Traccitto played five seasons with the University of Prince Edward Island where he laced up the skates for 120 games for the UPEI Panthers.
The appreciation for university hockey wasn’t exactly instant for Traccitto.
“When I went back I was kind of caught up of still playing pro. I was in California and playing too, I went from one coast to the other and it’s freezing in PEI,” said Traccitto. “My first year I was kind of in limbo a little bit, I didn’t really want to go back to school because I was out of school for two or three years, especially when I was playing in the OHL.”
So how does a guy who didn’t want to go back to school fall in love with the CIS culture and stay for five seasons?
“Reggie had a period of transition,” UPEI head coach Forbes Macpherson said, “once [the former pro players] get through the transition and grasp onto the CIS culture they really start to succeed in both areas, school, and sport.”
“Reggie went from perhaps struggling a little bit, to working through the transition, to completely flourishing. By the end of it [Reggie] was an All-Canadian player and an All-Canadian academic as well,” Macpherson acknowledged.
University hockey can be precarious, and a professional contract offer could be awarded from a pro team at any time. Traccitto knew this and had not fully committed to a full five year CIS hockey career when he originally left California for P.E.I.
After his first season with UPEI Traccitto was offered a chance to attend the Montreal Canadiens rookie camp. He didn’t make the team or receive an invitation, but Traccitto took what he learned from the Canadiens coaches and said to himself, “you know CIS hockey is actually really good, and I’m just going to continue it out.”
“My first year we probably had three or four guys that ended up playing pro a little bit before going there.” raved Traccitto.
Canadian Usports is trying to brand themselves as an elite option for athletes to play at a highly competitive level and to better themselves while simultaneously receiving a degree.
“[The CIS] doesn’t want to have… players that come in to do the school and leave. They want to have guys come in, do the best they can, and eventually go to the [ECHL], AHL or NHL,” Traccitto said.
MacPherson added that “When [the CIS] get guys like Reggie, they still have the dream that they still want to play pro hockey, and while they’re at university they remain disciplined, they remain focused, they remain driven and, therefore, they’re still a hungrier athlete.”
The Usports brand is expanding and Canadian university sports, especially hockey, is starting to make a name for itself amongst athletic circles.
“There’s a lot of scouts coming to the games,” Traccitto mentioned, “Since I was there it’s been getting a lot bigger too, a lot more pro scouts coming to the games as well, so it’s awesome.”
For some player’s university hockey is the end of the road, but Traccitto used his experience to make adjustments to his game in an effort to move onto the next level of his career.
Macpherson believes that “the reason why players end up in the CIS is because there is something in their game that the player has to work on and the CIS affords them to not only get an education but take three or fours years and work on those details and get back into pro hockey…” and for Traccitto that was “…to be more consistent in his game.”
“Over his time at university it really gave him the time to work on his consistency and he became a premier defenceman in Canada,” Macpherson said of Traccitto.
In Traccitto’s final two seasons in the CIS he was named an AUS First Team All-Star and CIS Second Team All-Canadian. This encouraging improvement led to a phone call from the Brampton Beast to come play pro hockey again and keep his dream alive.
Traccitto is not even two years out of school and already has an ECHL Kelly Cup championship trophy to add to his career accolades.
“It definitely prepared me playing [at UPEI],” Traccitto acknowledged. “I think it matured me more as a player, so it was definitely a good thing.”