C.J. Eick, Green Bay Gamblers

USHL forward C.J. Eick, from Appleton, Wisconsin, is next in our weekly Future Huskies series. C.J. played Midget AAA hockey for the Green Bay Jr. Gamblers before heading to St. Louis to spend a season in the NAHL with the Bandits. His success there as a 5’7″ forward helped him get drafted by the Green Bay Gamblers and return home to northeast Wisconsin. Now in his second season with the Gamblers, C.J. was honored by being named one of the team’s captains. That’s quite the accomplishment considering that with the recent commitment of Matt Weis to Ohio State, there are 20 players on the Gamblers roster who have scholarships to a Division I hockey program, including eight players that will be in the WCHA next season. C.J.’s improved offensive numbers this year are a continuation of what he started in last season’s USHL playoffs. His speed and tenacity has been extremely important to the Gamblers’ success over the last two seasons. During Winter Carnival, THG sat down with coach Pearson to find out why the Huskies wanted C.J. to be part of their team next season. Here’s what he had to say:[quote]He is a tremendous skater. C.J. will probably be one of the fastest skaters on our team and maybe the league. We expect him to come in and really help on the penalty killing and anchor a fourth line that can go out and check, work hard and play against any line in college hockey. He comes from a very successful organization and we’re really excited to get him on board. The one thing we hope C.J. can do is be a little bit better offensively. I think he is capable of that, much like Dennis Rix or Bryce Reddick who haven’t done a lot at Tech numbers wise but expect C.J. to contribute there also.[/quote]

Coach Whitten touched on a lot of the same points when THG caught up with him while he was on the recruiting trail in Minnesota a few weeks ago: [quote]C.J. Eick will add a ton of speed to our lineup. He’s a tenacious player who is great on the penalty kill. His speed makes him a very dangerous player that can create some favorable matchups for us.[/quote]

Earlier this week, THG chatted with the Gamblers’ new head coach, Derek Lalonde. He gave a glowing review of C.J. and really thinks the Huskies snagged a very underrated player: [quote]C.J. is a very important piece to our team. He is a leader, he’s one of our captains. He brings dynamic speed that is important in many aspects. I think one thing that will translate from the USHL to college level is speed. Michigan Tech’s team speed is going to immediately improve with him. He has a high compete level, he’s the first kid on the puck, first kid on the forecheck, and an excellent penalty killer. I think he’s going to have to continue to improve on making plays at the faster pace of college hockey. Michigan Tech added a great piece to puzzle by adding C.J. He’s going to fit on their third line for four years and you win with a kid like him. He’s won a lot of games here for us and he’s been a big part of that.[/quote]

Now for the interview with the Gamblers forward, C.J. Eick.

THG: You’ve made your decision to play college hockey at Michigan Tech. Can you tell us a little bit about your decision to become a Husky?[quote]After the USHL Fall Classic, I talked to a couple teams. Then I got a call from [Michigan] Tech after the tournament and they wanted to schedule a visit right away. I went up there and really liked what I saw. I liked the coaching staff a lot. I really liked coach Pearson, coach Whitten and coach Muckalt. I love the facilities and thought the rink was awesome. I got to see the locker rooms and talk to some of the guys. I know Patrick McCadden, a former Gambler, I talked to him. He had good things to say about [Michigan Tech], and Pat Mikesch, our assistant coach, had nothing but good things to say about it. After all that, I thought it would be a perfect fit for my style of play and so it made the decision pretty easy.[/quote]

THG: Who else was recruiting you? Did you have any other offers? When did teams start to show interest in you? [quote]I had talked Colorado College, their assistant coach [Eric Rud] was my head coach in Green Bay last year, so I was talking to him quite a bit. I was also talking to Vermont, Providence and Merrimack. Mostly, my decision came down to Michigan Tech and Colorado College. I was talking to a few of those teams over the summer after our run in the playoffs last season, but the majority of interest came after the Fall Classic.[/quote]

THG: Did the academics played a role in your decision? Do you know what you want to study at Michigan Tech? [quote]Yeah, I know it’s a good school and it’s definitely good to come out with a degree from a school where pretty much everyone gets a job right when they graduate. That definitely helped the decision, but the biggest part for me was the hockey and where the program is headed. I think I’m going to be going into Sports and Fitness Management.[/quote]

THG: How much of a role did former Huskies player and coach, Pat Mikesch, play in your decision to come to Michigan Tech? [quote]He helped it a lot. He had all positive things to say. He loved his time playing there. He loved his time coaching there. I also talked to other alumni like A.J. Aitken, assistant coach at St. Norbert’s, I know him pretty well and he had all good things to say about it. Everything I was hearing was positive and with the coaching staff, it was an easy decision. [/quote]

THG: Did you make your official visit to Houghton? What were your impressions of head coach, Mel Pearson?[quote]It was about a month or so after the Fall Classic. I liked [coach Pearson] a lot. I watched them practice and I loved the pace. It was all getting up and down the ice, a lot of flow, a lot of battle drills, stuff I like to see in practice and I know all the guys [on the team] like him. He didn’t come off as a real scary, intimidating coach. He seemed like the kind of guy you could talk to about anything, so he seemed like a good guy to play for. [/quote]

THG: You grew up in Appleton,Wisconsin. What does it mean to get to play for the local team, the Green Bay Gamblers? [quote]That was a dream come true. That was goal my whole life to play for the Green Bay Gamblers, growing up. It took me a year to get ready for the USHL, so I went down to St. Louis and played in the NAHL. When I got drafted by [the Gamblers] I was pretty excited. It’s great to have family and friends at every game. I feel very fortunate to have been drafted by this organization.[/quote]

THG: How special is it for you to be recognized as one of the captains of the Green Bay Gamblers?[quote]That was huge honor. I started playing juniors when I was 17. As a younger player, I played with some great leaders and guys I really looked up to at the time. Now, the younger players come in and look up to me as a leader like I did earlier in my career. It means a lot.[/quote]

THG: What’s it like playing on a team with so many Division 1 prospects (20 total)? [quote]It’s awesome. It doesn’t matter what line you’re on, you’re playing with unbelievably talented players. It gives coach [Lalonde] a lot of options as far as lines. There isn’t one guy on this team that I don’t like playing with. We’ve got a lot of talent and a good mix between younger talented guys and older veterans.[/quote]

THG: What has been your favorite hockey moment so far in your career? [quote]I think it had to be our run through the USHL playoffs last season. Unfortunately, we didn’t win it all, but being a part of that team, last year, that has to be my most memorable hockey moment.[/quote]

THG: You mentioned Patrick McCadden, have you been talking to any future teammates? [quote]I haven’t gotten in touch with a ton of guys. I had been talking mainly with McCadden. One night coach Whitten was watching one of our games against Tri-City and he was going to have me meet [Pheonix] Copley but their bus took off right away after the game, so I really haven’t gotten a chance to talk to any of the guys coming in.[/quote]

THG: All the coaches I spoke to about you say the same thing. You’re a tremendous skater that will be a huge part of penalty killing, and could quite possibly end up as one of the fastest players in the WCHA. What do you think of that? [quote]I glad to hear the coaches recognize my speed and skating ability. I try to be the fastest guy out there. I know I’m a little bit undersized, as far as height goes, so I use my speed to keep up at a high level. To succeed in a league like the WCHA, I’m going to have to be the fastest guy out there every night. I try to have an impact with my speed every night.[/quote]

THG: What do you think is your biggest weakness? Something you’ll need to work on to become a better player at the college level? [quote]My biggest weakness would have to be finishing. With my speed, I get quite a few chances. Last year I didn’t start finishing until playoffs and this year, missing breakaways, I need to finish more of those opportunities. I need to work in my scoring so I can put up some goals along with using my speed.[/quote]

THG: How much did the reshuffling of the conference play a role in your decision?[quote]It wasn’t a huge factor. The WCHA is losing some of its top teams but I still feel it’s going to be a strong conference with teams like Northern Michigan and remaining [WCHA] teams. I wasn’t too concerned with that. I’m happy that they will still be in the WCHA. [/quote]

THG: Anything you want Michigan Tech fans to know? [quote]I’m definitely excited to get up there. It looks like their team is doing awesome this year and it’s a good time to be heading into that program.[/quote]

Tim is a 2004 graduate of Michigan Tech. He is a co-founder of both Mitch’s Misfits and Tech Hockey Guide. With recent additions to the staff, Tim is again able to focus on his passion, recruiting. He currently works as an environmental engineer and resides in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Area.