The next few months are going to keep Nick Skaluba very busy.
After one season of playing with the Alpena High School hockey team, the doors have opened for the 15-year-old defenseman to further his hockey career and he'll do so next season as a member of the (Cleveland) Junior Lumberjacks U16 AAA team of the North American Prospects Hockey League.
Before that, Skaluba will get a chance to showcase his skills at several camps. He's currently at a two-week elite prospects camp at Lake Superior State University. From July 14-20 he will be in Rochester, N.Y., for the USA Select-15 camp. Then from July 31-Aug 3, Skaluba will attend a United States Hockey League combine in Chicago.
Alpena defenseman Nick Skaluba moves the puck during a game at Northern Lights Arena. Skaluba will continue his hockey career next season with the Junior Lmberjacks U16 AAA team in Cleveland. Before that Skaluba will take part in three hockey camps this summer including the USA Hockey Select 15 Camp and the United States Hockey League combine as he works toward his goal of playing college hockey.
"It's pretty overwhelming. Everything's happening so quickly," Skaluba said. "It seems like just a couple of years ago this was all kind of just a dream, just a little blur in the back of my head."
Skaluba will begin playing for the Lumberjacks in the fall and be coached by former Alpena IceDiggers coach Jack Fritsche. The team is new to the four-year old NAPHL and Skaluba's abilities and friendship with Fritsche and his son Jason made him an easy pick for the team.
In addition to the Lumberjacks' offer, Skaluba was contacted by Northwood Prep School in Lake Placid, N.Y., and had a tryout with the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
"It's pretty overwhelming. Everything's happening so quickly. It seems like just a couple of years ago this was all kind of just a dream, just a little blur in the back of my head."
- Nick Skaluba
The USA Select 15 camp will be somewhat familiar to Skaluba who tried out for and made the Select 14 Player Development Camp last year after playing for the Carolina Junior Hurricanes AAA team in Raleigh, N.C. He'll be playing with and against some of the top 15-year-olds in the country, while being evaluated by some of the country's best hockey scouts.
Skaluba learned he'd made the camp in May and said he tries to remain humble and keep working hard because of all of the opportunities he's gotten.
"If I just keep going on the track that I'm going (it will work out)," he said. "But I have to work at it. You're not entitled to anything. There's always someone better than you."
That humble nature showed in Skaluba's decision to play for the Wildcats last season. Making the Select 14 Player Development Camp opened several doors for Skaluba, but it also gave him two choices: He could captain the Hurricanes the next season or he could come home to Alpena and play for the Wildcats.
Skaluba chose the Wildcats.
In just one season of playing for Alpena, Skaluba quickly established himself as one of the Wildcats' best defensemen, impressing with his vision, crisp passing and toward the end of the season, his offensive skills. He finished with two goals and nine assists in 23 games.
"He probably had the best hockey sense I've seen out of any Alpena player," Alpena coach Pete Doubek said. "His angles are phenomenal. You try to teach that as a coach, but he brought it with him. He sees the whole ice and he was the best passer I've seen in a long time."
Skaluba's goal at this point in his hockey career is to play Division 1 college hockey and the USHL combine could be the opportunity which eventually turns that goal into a reality. As the top tier junior hockey league in the United States, college scouts routinely offer scholarships to USHL players. Last year, more than 250 players received scholarships to Division 1 schools and 28 UHSL players were selected in this year's NHL draft.
While at the combine, Skaluba will get the chance to perform in front of some of the scouts, general managers and coaches from each of the league's 16 teams who regularly attend development camps. He'll also undergo off-ice testing and play in five exhibition games.
In addition to hockey, the USHL stresses the importance of academics, something that's important to Skaluba's mother and father, Eric and Angela. While playing for the Lumberjacks, Skaluba will be home schooled by Fritsche's wife.
"They are geared toward making a young hockey player the best hockey player he can be, academically and in the community," Eric said. "Straight through, it's amazing what they do."
As he prepares for the next stage of his hockey career, Skaluba said he will always have fond memories of his time with Alpena and is just trying to make the most of his opportunities as they come along.
"It's definitely burned in (my memory). It was a great time. The competition was great. It will always be a part of my life," Skaluba said of his time in Alpena. "I think it's just a great honor. I try not to take it for granted. A lot of kids would like to be in my shoes and I try to think about that and be humble."