June 5, 2011

Michalek, Sullivan enjoy 'great experience' at combine

Steve Michalek

TORONTO — A pair of Connecticut natives represented New England at the NHL Scouting Combine this weekend, soaking it all in and relishing the chance to mingle with other top hockey draft prospects and NHL teams.

Avon Old Farms defenseman Colin Sullivan (Milford, Conn.) and Loomis-Chaffee goaltender Steve Michalek (Glastonbury, Conn.) may not be household names for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, but they both followed up successful seasons with a good showing in Toronto.

The two have known each other for years, playing together on select teams together and competing against one another from some of their earliest days of organized hockey. They were glad to be able to go through the combine events together and share in the adventure.

“It was just a great experience,” Sullivan said Friday, as the very last player in the eight groups to complete the fitness portion’s first day. “(It was) definitely a fun time here. It was great to compete against all the best of the best.”

Sullivan said he had been training for the past six weeks in preparation for the testing and it showed in his results.

Sullivan placed 10th in the vertical jump with no pause in between by reaching a height of 29 inches. The winner, Shawinigan forward Maximilien Le Sieur, posted out at 30.5. With a pause, Sullivan was seventh with a 28.5 leap. Le Sieur again paced the field with 31.5 inches of vertical air. He also placed top-10 in the Lewis leg power test (seventh), the Sayers leg power peak test (fifth) and push strength (fourth).

“It was good to finally get a chance to leave it all out there,” said Sullivan, just before boarding a bus to return to the player hotel. “It’s one of those things where after a while it starts to get extremely addictive; I love working out. I love just being in the gym, so I love to do it.”

Michalek also performed well in the testing, but could be forgiven for showing a little bit of fatigue given the external distractions he was dealing with because of where the combine’s schedule fell with respect to his exams and high school graduation.

“It’s been pretty hectic,” Michalek said. “It’s been a lot of travel; I came up here on Thursday morning after my finals ended on Wednesday, did all my interviews, got that over with. Flew back into Hartford on Thursday night (and) had my graduation (Friday) morning, flew back to Toronto last night, got up this morning and came here.”

Even so, Michalek posted the kind of results that show that he is an accomplished athlete. He finished 10th overall among the more than 100 prospects in attendance at the standing long jump event, demonstrating impressive lower leg drive and power with a 112-inch jump. The top performer, Shawinigan defenseman Jonathan Racine, finished with a leap of 119.3 inches.

“It’s a challenge because they’re all good athletes here; they’re some of the best hockey players in the world,” said Michalek. “I’m going to see how I stack up. I think I prepared myself pretty well and I think the results will show that I did pretty well here.”

Michalek and Sullivan interviewed with six and 10 NHL clubs this week, respectively, which is typical considering where they are ranked against their peers. Sullivan is No. 75 on Central Scouting’s North American skaters rankings, while Michalek finished fifth among North American goaltenders.

As New England prep players, both have an uphill battle to earn high draft marks because of concerns in the NHL scouting community about the level of competition. However, both of Sullivan and Michalek appear to have done their part to make an effective case. Two different NHL amateur scouting directors singled both players out for praise in the way they handled themselves both during meetings and the fitness testing.

“It was a wide variety of personalities,” Michalek said of the interviews he conducted. “Some you’d go in and there would be 10 guys in there kind of grilling you with questions and trying to get you to say something, and then there was a couple of teams where they were kind of joking around. You never really knew what to expect going in, but I thought it was a neat experience to try to meet some of the guys at the top of the NHL organizations.”

Sullivan said he will travel to Montreal and Carolina to conduct further testing and interviews between now and the draft on June 24-25, while Michalek wasn’t sure whether he had any additional travel or if all that remained for him was to see if his name gets called by an NHL team. Later this summer, he will travel to Lake Placid, N.Y., to participate in the Team USA World Junior Evaluation Camp before reporting to Harvard for the 2011-12 hockey season.

“I’m just trying to stay positive and soak it all in,” he said. “Staying busy helps take you mind off it and focus on what is important.”

Kirk Luedeke can be reached at kluedeke@hockeyjournal.com.