School route pays off

STEVE MACFARLANE

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

You could debate the merits of college hockey versus major junior for hours, but one pro under the school column is a degree to fall back on when the playing days are done.

Calgary Flames prospect David Van der Gulik, for example, finished a history degree from Boston University before turning pro last year and enjoyed a successful freshman season with the AHL Omaha Knights.

"It's not something I hope to fall back on, but it's nice to have it," said Van der Gulik with a laugh in the halls of the Don Hartman Sportsplex.

"It's a pretty prestigious school to graduate from. Hopefully I can play hockey into my 30s, and I'll have to think about it after that."

The Abbotsford, B.C., product wasn't a history buff and didn't enjoy his studies, but hockey limited his options.

"I would have loved to do biology or something, but the labs and stuff were way too intense. So I took something I wasn't totally interested in but I did it.

"It's harder to learn when you don't enjoy it."

Not having to deal with the added workload, though, was a relief when Van der Gulik joined the Knights. The result was a 16-goal, 43-point rookie campaign, putting him fourth in team scoring.

"It was definitely a good experience, good first year," said the 24-year-old. "Being older, I wanted to go in there and step in and have a good role right away. I'm not 19, 20, 21 going in. I was 23 turning 24, so I had to have a good year.

"It was nice not having school, to have that on your mind all the time. You could just focus on hockey. That was the biggest change for me that I noticed.

"Playing 80 games as opposed to 40 the prior four years, I felt I had way more energy the whole year just because I didn't have all that studying and all that other stuff people do in college to really tire you out. It felt great."

Van der Gulik was one of only three Knights to play all 80 regular-season games last season, which was important to the 5-ft.-11, 185-pounder after he missed the first half of his senior year as a Terrier with a sports hernia that was diagnosed as everything from an inflamed pubic bone to a groin tear.

The result was a lengthy variety of treatments including needles being jammed into his nether regions to build up scar tissue. Surgery probably would have been quicker but it wasn't considered at the time.

Van der Gulik scored 11 goals and 22 points in 25 games after returning but injured his knee in the process, although he played through the pain.

A tweak during a game of shinny brought about a recent MRI, but Van der Gulik isn't sure what he'll do about the slight tear.

"It hasn't been bothering me this week. I hurt it a couple of weeks ago playing shinny hockey, just popped an edge," Van der Gulik said.

"I don't know if I want to get it (scoped) but I don't want it to flare up during the year, so we'll see."

While Van der Gulik may never use his degree, history has taught him the college route can work. David Moss' mid-season graduation from the AHL to the NHL last year is a perfect example of how Van der Gulik expects to catch his break one day.

"When there's injuries, that's your time to try and stand out and earn a call-up and try and stay up as long as you can," Van der Gulik said.

DEAL THEM IN

The Flames announced four signings yesterday.

As previously reported, Eric Godard avoided arbitration with a single-season, one-way deal worth $475,000, while fellow restricted free agent wingers Tomi Maki and Eric Nystrom, as well as goaltender Curtis McElhinney, signed two-way, one-year contracts.


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