October 27, 2009
College route takenBlues forward opts for hockey and degree
By KEN WIEBE
Zach Franko is protecting his future, without sacrificing it.
The 16-year-old forward with the Winnipeg South Blues has the same dreams as many young hockey players growing up in the prairies, but Franko decided the path best suited for him would be the college route.
That's why he's accepted a scholarship to join the Bemidji State Beavers instead of chasing that dream through the Western Hockey League.
"Not everyone makes it to the NHL, ultimately that's my goal, but you need something to fall back on," Franko said yesterday. "I'm getting my education paid for, so it couldn't be better. It was tough when Bemidji offered me the scholarship, but ultimately it came down to my decision and I have no regrets."
It's been a whirlwind couple of months for Franko, a second round choice of the Kelowna Rockets in the 2008 WHL Bantam Draft.
Franko went to training camp with the Rockets and had an opportunity to stick around, but instead chose to return home and play with the Blues in order to keep his options open.
Still, the trip to Rockets camp this fall was a positive one.
"You're playing with NHL draft picks, it's an eye-opener and you really get humbled by that experience," said Franko, who found himself on a team with Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn and playing against Buffalo Sabres blue-liner Tyler Meyers.
Franko spent last season playing on a line with Michael St. Croix and Brendan O'Donnell for the Winnipeg Wild of the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League.
St. Croix graduated to the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL this season, while O'Donnell joined Franko with the Blues.
"We pushed each other to the next level," said Franko.
The transition from AAA Midget to the MJHL was not without its challenges, but Franko has adjusted nicely, putting up nine goals and 16 points to sit second in team scoring to captain Troy Smukowich, who has 17 points.
Those numbers are impressive, but Franko understands he has plenty to work on as he tries to become a more complete player.
"It's been fun and it's also been challenging," said Franko. "My coaches have given me a great opportunity and it's been nice to be able to contribute offensively. I've just got to keep it going. It's just the start of a long season really.
"I''m working at being better in the defensive zone and getting stronger."
Franko understands he'll be playing at least two more seasons in the MJHL before joining the Beavers, but he's glad to know what the future will bring.
"It's really nice and now I can just focus on the task at hand, which is helping the Blues try to win a championship," said Franko. "I would like to play there (Bemidji State) as an 18-year-old, but right now it's up in the air as to when I'm going to play there."
Blues head coach Don MacGillivray believes Franko has exceeded expectations in the early stages of the season.
"When you're playing with good players on a good team, sometimes you get overshadowed a little bit but he's come in to our team and proven he's a good player in his own right and people have taken notice," said MacGillivray. "He's a very, very good skater and he has terrific hands for a young player. He's one of those guys that skates effortlessly. He has some special attributes."
AROUND THE GLASS: The Dauphin Kings are ranked fourth in the CJHL rankings this week.