The Sky Is The Limit

Alex Tuch’s Career Trajectory Continues On A Path To The Stars
By: 
Jason Kates

Throughout his youth hockey career, Alex Tuch could usually be found playing with kids who were a year or two older than him.

This wasn't the result of an age discrepancy or a flaw in the system, but a testament to the skill level the Baldwinsville, N.Y., native possessed from the time he was a 5-year-old playing alongside 7-year-olds all the way up to his first year in Junior B, when he was a 1996 birth year playing on a team with '95s.

Steve Cibelli, who was Tuch's first travel team coach with the Syracuse Stars and a close family friend, remembers the time he spent guiding the Vegas Golden Knight star during his formative years.

"I spent a lot of time around Alex, he's always been a kid who I've mentored from close and afar," Cibelli recalled. "He was a really skilled kid for his age, bright eyed and bushy tailed, eager to learn.

"You talk about how hard he worked off the ice to become a player, the proofs in the pudding. The one thing I marvel about him was he never complained about anything, no matter how bad or good things were. He was just an incredibly even-keeled kid. I think that's one of his great strengths, that he can compartmentalize and sort of step in and out of roles."

While Cibelli acknowledged that it's hard to determine the trajectory a player is heading towards at a young age, he pinpointed Tuch's first year in Junior B as a defining moment.

Playing under Scott Montagna for the Syracuse Jr. Stars in 2011 in the Empire Junior Hockey League, Tuch's offensive prowess was on full display, tallying 101 points despite being one of the youngest players in the league.

"Right away he just took to being one of our on-ice leaders and one of our hardest workers both on and off the ice," Montagna said. "That's where it really seemed like he came into his own."

Despite playing in a league that Montagna admitted doesn't gain much attention, Tuch caught the eye of the coaching staff with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program.

When Danton Cole, who spent two years coaching Tuch at the NTDP, first met the young forward back in 2012, one thing stood out to him.

"Just how big he was and how skilled he was, that's kind of a rare combination," said Cole, who is now the head coach at Michigan State.

"For a 16-year-old kid, he was a
monster. He had really good feet, and really good hands and that's a pretty good combination."

But like those who previously coached Tuch, Cole admired his willingness and dedication to improving his game.

"His best attribute is he's just a really good man. He's honest and hardworking and never cheats you at all," Cole said. "You see how he's playing now, that's how he had to work to get himself to play for us and it carried onto college and now it's coming in the pros." 

After honing his craft for two years in Ann Arbor, Mich., Tuch took his talents to Boston College, where his development continued to take off under the tutelage of legendary coach Jerry York. During his two seasons at Chestnut Hill, Tuch found college life fit him well, both in the classroom and on the ice, helping the Eagles to the Frozen four during his sophomore season.

"Alex was just one of those players you always wanted to be around," York said. "He never complained, [and] always worked hard. Even though he always had size, he developed as a cerebral, two-way player as well and knew it would translate at the next level.

"Alex is someone that makes other players around him better. Yes, he's a goal scorer, but he's a selfless player that always puts the team first."

As murmurs grew louder that his son would be a high pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Carl Tuch tried not to get ahead of himself. Of course, that didn't last long.

"Until he probably got to the U.S. program, it was like he may get drafted and then would've been amazing if he got drafted," he said.

"Then towards the mid-point of his final year you're seeing all the rankings and you're saying 'Oh my God, he could get drafted in the first round.'"

And that's exactly what happened, with Alex being selected 18th overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft by the Minnesota Wild. And two years later he was packing his hockey bag and heading to the pro ranks.

"I loved my time at BC," Tuch told the Minneapolis Star Tribune after agonizing over the decision to leave school. "I loved my teammates and my coaches have been nothing but great. I'll always miss this school, but I thought it was best for me and my development as a hockey player to move on. I'm ready for the new challenge. I'm ready for that next step."

Fast forward to the summer of 2017, when Tuch was plucked by Vegas in the expansion draft in what Cibelli calls "one of the best things that happened to him," especially when you consider the success he's had in his rookie campaign.

"I'm not surprised about his level of success," Cibelli said. "You've got to catch your break and make the most of it and to Alex's credit he got his break and has made the most out of it. He's still three or four years away from man strength so I think the best has yet to come."

"It's rewarding and it's fun to see because when we're coaching them here their goal is to get to the NHL," added Cole, who remembers sending Tuch a text after he scored his first NHL goal. "He is the kind of young man that you just want to see succeed. For me it's been an awful lot of fun watching him play."

Tuch's father compared his son's journey as a professional hockey player to climbing Mount Everest, and that getting drafted is the equivalent to making it to base camp.

"You just don't climb straight up the mountain, there's all kinds of obstacles and turns and crevices, you just can't go straight up," he said. "He really loves I out there, they love him, the fans love him. You just want it to last. The next challenge is you got to stick."

As  the Golden Knights' magical season continues to defy the odds, the sky is the limit for the most successful expansion team in NHL history and the humble giant from Upstate New York who has found a home on the Las Vegas Strip.                       

"I think everyone was a little surprised at how quickly the entire Vegas franchise has catapult itself into the Stanley Cup conversation," York said. "To see Alex contributing with a couple goals already in this playoff series is something special. We're hoping it continues."

 

Issue: 
2018-04

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