| The Detroit News
Last week, Sam Stange was a fourth-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings in the 2020 National Hockey League draft, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound power forward who will make his Big Ten hockey debut next month for the University of Wisconsin coached by former NHL forward and ex-Red Wings assistant coach Tony Granato.
This week, Stange was right back on the ice as one of two Detroit prospects (Robert Mastrosimone of Boston University was a second-round pick in 2019) who were among 42 players at the five-day U.S. National Junior Team Evaluation Camp, which wrapped up on Tuesday at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.
Final cuts won’t be made until the players have a chance to begin their regular seasons but the top 23 players (USA Hockey is waiting for the International Ice Hockey Federation to finalize the size of rosters) will advance to the 2021 world championships from Dec. 26-Jan. 5 at Rogers Place in Edmonton. No fans will be in attendance similar to the secure-zone bubble the NHL used for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“It was my first time being at a camp like this,” said Stange, a late bloomer who was bypassed in last year’s draft but stepped up with 24 goals and 18 assists in 44 games with the Sioux City Musketeers and Sioux Falls Stampede in the United States Hockey League this year. “The level of skill is really high and the speed of the game goes up. I haven’t been able to represent the USA on a world stage or wear the jersey. To be able to get selected or take the next step would mean a lot to me.”
Stange’s Big Ten season will begin as soon as Nov. 13 (the schedules haven’t been released yet) and will feature 24-game conference schedules, plus an additional four games per school against Arizona State hosted at Big Ten venues. The 2020-21 schedule will conclude March 18-20 with the Big Ten tournament.
“It’s been pretty crazy the last week,” Stange said. “Less than 24 hours after I was picked, I was on my way here for the camp. I didn’t really get to see the city too much in the bubble environment. It was still cool knowing I was in the area.”
Last year, the United States lost in the quarterfinals against Finland 1-0 in Trinec, Czech Republic, ending the U.S. all-time best medal streak in four consecutive years. Goalie Spencer Knight, who was back on the ice for the U.S. evaluation camp and said “scrimmage had a really good pace,” made 28 saves against Finland but lost a duel against Colorado Avalanche prospect Justus Annumen, who stopped all 30 shots by the star-studded team with six first-round NTDP players in the lineup.
“What I noticed is when things get tough you can’t get too down,” said Knight, a first-round pick by the Florida Panthers. “You can play your best hockey through the round-robin and finish as the No. 1 seed and still lose in the quarterfinals. It’s not just going to be a cakewalk because you’re ranked higher. It’s a brand-new tournament.”
Stange, the 2019 Wisconsin high school athlete of the year in hockey and baseball, said he watched last year’s U.S. junior team, which featured defenseman Ty Emberson who is also from his hometown in Eau Claire. Emberson was a third-round draft pick of the Arizona Coyotes in 2018 and will be the Badgers’ captain this year.
“I want to take this experience back to Madison and learn from Tony and the rest of the coaching staff,” Stange said. “Even some of the smaller guys here have big-time strength. It shows me I’ll have to develop my strength and know how to use it.”
The odds of a fourth-round selection making the NHL aren’t very good. Excluding the last two drafts when fourth-rounders haven’t had a chance to develop, only 43 players taken in the fourth round from 2012-2017 have played at least one game in the NHL.
Ann Arbor’s Andrew Copp leads all fourth-rounders during that time with 356 games with the Winnipeg Jets. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound forward who played for Compuware, the NTDP team and the Michigan Wolverines, has 46 goals and 64 assists for 110 points.
“I take that with a grain of salt,” Stange said. “No matter what round you go in or if you don’t go in a round, the odds are always going to be against you a little bit because it’s the best of the best. You just do what you can do and don’t worry about it too much.”
Sam Stange glance
Who: Sam Strange
What: Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the fourth round of the 2020 NHL draft
Birthplace: Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Position: Right winger
Weight: 200 pounds
Stats: Scored 26 goals with 19 assists for the Sioux City Musketeers and Sioux Falls Stampede in the United States Hockey League last year. This year, he’ll attend the University of Wisconsin, coached by former Red Wings assistant coach Tony Granato
State title: Two-sport star Stange hit the game-winning homer in the bottom of the sixth inning for Eau Claire North in a 5-4 win over Sun Prairie to capture the 2019 Wisconsin Division 1 state championship