Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hometown Haczyk Seeking to Make NHL Devils




Originally published in the Nutley Journal on Aug. 24, 2011. Haczyk has been assigned to Albany (AHL) to start the 2011-12 season.

By Roman J. Uschak

A Jersey Devil is seeking to come home for good.

Bryan Haczyk, a Nutley native who starred for the Niagara University hockey team the past four seasons, recently attended his second prospects camp with the National Hockey League’s New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark.

"It was pretty awesome," he said earlier this month. "It's really nice to be a part of the organization again."

He is hoping to become just the second Garden State native ever to skate for his home state NHL team. Brick native Jim Dowd, a former college star himself at Lake Superior State in Michigan, helped the Devils to their first-ever Stanley Cup title in 1995.

Haczyk (pronounced HA-chek) took part in his first prospects camp with the Devils last summer, but said the second time around was much more comfortable.

"It was easier to just play my game, and I thought I did well," he said. "There was a lot of talent out there, and I held my own and worked hard."

Haczyk, who was born in Secaucus and then moved to Jersey City, got his start skating at the Mud Hole in Nutley before playing his formative hockey with the New Jersey Devils Youth Hockey Club in West Orange. He then starred for Seton Hall Prep before going on to play three years of junior hockey, first with the New Jersey Hitmen, and then with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League.

Haczyk, 24, then skated for Niagara from 2007 to 2011, helping the Purple Eagles to an NCAA Tournament berth as a freshman, before exploding for career scoring highs as a senior team captain with 28 goals and 17 assists for 45 points. He finished his college career with 46 goals and 49 assists for 95 points, while also fashioning a 3.9 grade-point average and earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

Now he's trying to fashion a professional hockey career in what is practically his own backyard, after playing away from home the past six or seven years.

"It's been awhile, but it feels great," said Haczyk of playing in New Jersey again.

The 5-9, 175-pound forward actually made his professional debut at the tail end of the 2010-11 campaign when he played three games with the ECHL’s Trenton Devils, where he registered one assist.

"My family only had to drive one hour to see me play," he laughed, as opposed to a seven-hour sojourn up to Niagara in Lewiston, NY. "It was pretty awesome being back home again."

He also said it's nice to be able to just focus on playing hockey and not having to worry about combining athletics with academics anymore, although he did admit to missing his friends at Niagara.

"I do miss that part of college," he said. "I definitely wouldn't change a thing, and it was a fun four years."

Haczyk will most likely continue his career for now in the minor leagues, as he has signed a one-year contract with the Devils' Triple-A level affiliate in Albany of the American Hockey League. He already has an agent, and has been working out on daily basis at the Prudential Center while also skating with some of the other Devils.

“He will play at the next level,” said Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder of Haczyk last spring. “He has national league speed for sure. Someone will give him a chance at the AHL level, and then it’s where does he go from there.”

One adaptation Haczyk said he has had to make was to the playing style of pro hockey, which he explained is more weighted towards puck possession than the run-and-gun approach of college.

"It's been a bit of an adjustment, but I've felt I've gotten the hang of it," he said.

He also said that the Devils' blue-collar style of hockey, which emphasizes hard work and defense, suits him well.

"It's always been my game," said Haczyk. "My goal is to outwork my opponents on every shift, and I hope I'll fit in well and be successful in the organization."

He's also gotten a little used to seeing his equipment on display inside an NHL locker room.

"It's pretty cool to go to the building and see your gear hanging up," he admitted. "You take a step back, and it's pretty cool to think about the big picture."

The club wasn't simply attracted to Haczyk because he was born and raised in New Jersey, which the Devils have called home since moving from Colorado in 1982. It may have been that way at his first prospects camp last year, which was filled out with local players. The second time, though, was on his own merit.

"It was his senior season at Niagara, in particular," said David Conte, the Devils' long-time Executive Vice-President of Hockey Operations and Director of Scouting. "He had a very good year, and he's carried on with no guarantees. He has a certain character we like and respect."

Conte couldn't speculate on whether or not Haczyk would take part in the Devils' main training camp in Newark in September. He did say that, like all prospects, Haczyk's road ahead was full of potential, and would require some dedication, opportunity and luck.

"He's going to have a chance to start his journey, and see how it unfolds," said Conte.

One that could culminate less than 10 miles from home, at hockey's highest level.

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