Like Pat O’Keefe, his former junior hockey teammate and fellow Mount Pearl minor hockey product, Alex Wall hopes to parlay eight years of major junior and college hockey into a professional career.
And like O’Keefe, who turned pro this season in the ECHL (Elmira Jackals and Utah Grizzlies) after four years at Saint Mary’s University, Wall would do so with the security of a university degree in his back pocket.
“I definitely want to give pro hockey a shot,” said Wall, a 23-year-old, third-year defenceman with the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers, “either in the ECHL or Europe.
“There are not a lot of guys coming out of university hockey going to the NHL. Most head to the ECHL, a few to the American Hockey League. But if you’re in the ECHL, it only takes someone to notice you and it could be the break you need.
“The thing is, when you have a university degree, everything you do doesn’t all depend on hockey.”
Athletes of Wall’s ilk got it figured out. After four years in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the St. John’s Fog Devils/Montreal Juniors, Moncton Wildcats and Quebec Remparts, Wall used the league’s education fund to attend UPEI.
Not only is he studying engineering and math on P.E.I. — the university offers only the first two years of engineering, so Wall is spreading those courses over three years as he works towards a mathematics degree — he’s playing a high calibre brand of hockey, one that will lead him to Italy later this month for the 2013 Winter Universiade (World University Games).
Wall joins Chris Owens (Acadia Axemen) and Josh Day (St. Francis Xavier) of St. John’s, and Robert Slaney (St FX) of Upper Island Cove on the team that will have Brad Peddle (St. FX) of St. John’s as an assistant coach to Gardiner MacDougall.
The team of Atlantic University Sport players will represent Canada in the hockey competition in Trentino, Italy.
“It’s pretty special to be part of this,” Wall said. “I’ve always watched the World Junior Championship, and I’ve got friends who played in the world juniors (former Fog Devils teammates Luke Adam and Jake Allen).
“A chance to play in a world championship, wearing a Canadian jersey, is pretty awesome.”
No doubt, Wall will be taking his books with him overseas, just as he does on every road trip with the Panthers.
When he graduates with a math degree in 2015, he will be two years way from an engineering degree. Couple that heavy course load with a pair of games every weekend, and daily practice through the week, there’s not a lot of time for lounging.
“It’s definitely a lot of work,” said the former St. John’s AAA Maple Leafs midget player, and 2007 Canada Winter Games team member. “Between school and the rink, there’s not a lot of free time.”
The Panthers enter the Christmas break 6-5-1, and Wall has a goal and five assists.
“The skill level is much the same as major junior, although the maturity level of the players is much higher,” Wall said of the university game vs the major junior brand.
Canada heads to Trentino as defending bronze medallist from the 2011 competition in Erzurum, Turkey, where players from the Ontario conference finished third.
Since 1997, Canada has been represented at the Winter Universiade in hockey by each of three Canadian Interuniversity Sport conferences on a rotating basis.
Teams from AUS won a silver media in 2001 (Zakopane, Poland) and gold in 2007 (Turin, Italy).