Stalled NHL dreams not stopping educational pursuits for goaltender

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Columbus Blue Jacket's Dan LaCosta makes a save against Colorado Avalanche's Ryan Smyth in this Feb. 10,2009 file photo.

Wolfville, N.S. - Last spring, Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas became a media darling as much for his story as his frank personality and sparkling playoff performance.

The journeyman netminder spent nearly a decade in the minors and Europe before cracking the Bruins roster as a regular in 2006, becoming the poster boy for perseverance and dedication to the NHL dream.

Dan LaCosta, ex of the Columbus Blue Jackets, will not be the next Tim Thomas.

At the relatively young age of 24, LaCosta gave up on his pursuit of a full-time NHL gig in the summer of 2010 after just four seasons in the professional ranks.

The Labrador City native is now toiling for the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds of the Atlantic Universities Hockey Conference, and has set his sights on a degree in business.

While pursuit of higher education is a noble goal, LaCosta's departure from the pro ranks seems premature considering only three seasons ago the 6'1" puck-stopper posted wins in his first two NHL starts, including a 3-0 shutout of the Colorado Avalanche, in his second of three 2008-09 contests.

But LaCosta, who speaks in a measured, serious manner, is somewhat matter-of-fact about the end of his pro career.

"My time in Columbus ... I was only there for a brief period of time, but it was an unbelievable experience for me. I learned a lot," LaCosta said outside Acadia Arena following a recent game in Wolfville against the Axemen.

LaCosta says a series of nagging injuries and a poor season with the American Hockey League's Syracuse Crunch in 2009-10 (3.96 goals against average) spelled the end of his NHL dreams. He signed with Salzburg of the Austrian Hockey League in the summer of 2010, but was released in the pre-season, closing the books on his professional hockey odyssey.

LaCosta emerged on the local hockey scene as the Northern Huskies' goaltender in the provincial midget hockey league back in 2000 and 2001, where he was put to the test on the overmatched Huskies.

He posted nasty back-to-back goals against averages of 12.50 and 7.25, but was facing an average of 40-50 shots per game. It should also be noted LaCosta was only 13 and 14 at the time, an underage player in a league comprised of 15- and 16-year-olds.

In 2001, LaCosta, then 15, headed off for Wellington, Ont., and the Tier II Dukes where he registered a 1.96 GAA and helped the club to a 35-7 first-place record.

That spring, the Ontario Hockey League's Owen Sound Attack tabbed LaCosta fourth overall in the league's midget draft, the highest Newfoundland born-and-bred pick in the OHL lottery.

Two years later, the Blue Jackets selected the lanky netminder in the third round, 93rd overall, in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

LaCosta closed out his junior career with the Barrie Colts, and turned pro in the fall of 2006, splitting the season between Syracuse and Elmira, N.Y. of the ECHL.

He appeared in both the American league and ECHL again the following season, but also made an appearance for the Blue Jackets, playing 13 minutes and stopping five pucks against the Nashville Predators in relief of Fredrik Norrena.

"You kind of see when you're there (NHL) first-hand just how competitive the industry is," he said. "It's hard to find a (pro) job when you're coming off a bad year, even more when it's a bad year with injuries.

"Entering my fifth year, I couldn't find anything that really appealed to me that much. This opportunity (at UNB) to go to school worked out for me and my family. It was the best scenario for us," added LaCosta, who is engaged to a young lady from Owen Sound.

LaCosta wound up in Fredericton, N.B. thanks in part to his ex-Barrie teammate and former Varsity Red Hunter Tremblay, who convinced LaCosta to come to UNB.

Unable to play last season due to CIS eligibility regulations, LaCosta practiced with UNB and travelled with the club last winter and spring as a red-shirt for the national champions.

This season, he has managed to suit up in only five games due to groin and hamstring injuries. Still, he's managed to post a nifty 2.01 goals against average to go with a 3-1 record heading into this weekend's action.

"It's better than I thought it would be," he said of the Canadian university game. "Most of (the players), if they wanted to, could go play in the ECHL or the American league but they want to get their education first, which is smart.

"It's definitely good hockey. Unfortunately, I haven't got to experience a whole lot of it first-hand yet. Now, hopefully I can mend up and get in some of the games consistently."

Organizations: NHL, Columbus Blue Jackets, Boston Bruins Colorado Avalanche Ontario Hockey League American Hockey League Austrian Hockey League Nashville Predators

Geographic location: Wolfville, Newfoundland, Europe New Brunswick Wellington Syracuse Elmira, N.Y. Owen Sound Fredericton

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  • Ralph White
    November 29, 2011 - 07:44

    Great story and summary on LaCosta's career. These days you can make more money with the right education than playing AHL or European leagues. I think he made a good choice. Thanks for the run Dan! It was exciting to watch a hometown boy do so well in the bigs,