Karen’s Print Rite presents an update on former Black Hawks defenseman Dan Sova.
Standing at 6’ 3” and weighing 200 pounds, there was no doubt that Sova had the size to be successful on the ice after high school. Two years with the Black Hawks helped him develop into that frame and earn a college commitment to Michigan Tech. Sova missed just five regular season games during his time with the Hawks. He recorded 65 points and was a career +45 skater.
Sova had a strong beginning in college with the Huskies. As a sophomore in 2011/12, he played in every game and was the team’s second-leading scorer among defensemen with 13 points. Injuries limited him during his junior and senior seasons; he made fewer combined appearances in those campaigns than in either his freshman or sophomore season alone. However, Sova has arrived in professional hockey this season and is playing with the SPHL’s Pensacola Ice Flyers. We asked him about his current club and playing minor league hockey.
Black Hawks: Could you give us a sense of the Ice Flyers and the SPHL? How do the level of play and the atmosphere compare to the USHL? The NCAA?
Dan Sova: The Ice Flyers are a first-class organization. From where we live, to the operations on the ice and in the front office, the Ice Flyers are top-tier professional. We live in a beautiful area. Pensacola is in the pan handle of Florida. The fans are the best in the league and take hockey very seriously down here.
The SPHL is a league that gives players a chance. Guys obviously want to be called up, but while you are here, you are focused on the Ice Flyers and that’s what has brought them much success in the past. The level of play was something I didn’t know how to gauge before coming down here. I had no clue what it would be like, but like any next step in hockey, the speed is different from SPHL to ECHL. You have that split second longer with the puck than you would at the next level. From that standpoint, you learn the pro hockey culture while being down here, and it helps you when you get the chance to move up. The atmosphere is awesome. I would have to say that Waterloo is still my favorite place to play. The fans in Waterloo are amazing, but the fans in Pensacola are great as well. It reminds me a lot of the USHL in that sense other than the buildings we play in are much bigger.
BH: Is it strange to be playing in a warm climate at this time of year? Whether its golf or any other warm weather activity, have you found some ways to take advantage of it not being as cold there?
DS: Ha! it is a complete change of climate for me. I have never been to Florida until now, and its great knowing I’m not in Houghton, Waterloo, or Cottage Grove shoveling my driveway every night and morning. There are plenty of things I am doing to take advantage of this climate change. The biggest one is golf. We have a very nice course here, and I brought my clubs with me so I have been trying to get out once a week. We also live right on the beach so it’s always nice to just go for a walk as well. Fishing is another thing I am taking the advantage of. There is some great ocean fishing and it really uses up all of the spare time we have during the week.
BH: Although you only played with Brett Beebe briefly in Waterloo, what’s it like to be back on the ice together now after so many years?
DS: I have known Brett for quite awhile now. I kept in touch with him pretty good after he got traded from Waterloo, but it’s pretty crazy having one of your ex-teammates from so many years ago playing with you again. He called me checking how the spot was, and I told him it’s amazing, and then he said “ya, I’m coming down.” It’s always nice having someone you know and have played with before on a new team. It makes the transition that much easier.
BH: You didn’t expect to be in Pensacola initially. Could you tell us about the process of landing your first roster spot in pro hockey this offseason? What sorts of things came up that you didn’t expect as you went through try-outs with different teams, quite literally on opposite sides of the country?
DS: Correct, I had a pretty serious wrist injury my junior year that held me out of many games and didn’t get me very many looks as I graduated. The process after that was very long. It is all a waiting game. You have to wait for the NHL teams to figure out their contracts and signing new guys and continually down the systems. It’s basically a trickle-down effect. But Mr. Murray (Alaska Aces) called and asked me to sign with them in August so I did. I ended moving up to Alaska at the end of September and started up there. They are affiliated with two NHL teams (St. Louis and Minnesota), when their contract guys need a place they come down. I understood that coming in, and thanked the Aces for the opportunity. I ended up calling Coach [Rod] Aldoff (Pensacola) right after I was released, and he said “we definitely have a spot for you.” From there, I flew back to Minneapolis, changed my entire wardrobe, and booked a flight to Pensacola, and here I am.
BH: Michigan Tech had some tough seasons while you were there, and you personally dealt with some significant injuries. Despite those facts, what will you remember fondly about the college hockey experience?
DS: Yes, it was a difficult time especially when I started dealing with injuries. But college hockey and college in general was awesome. You get to play the game you love every day and go to school while doing it. But what I remember fondly about the college hockey experience is the teammates and friendships you make in those four years that will last a lifetime. You will always remember the guys you played with and those connections will never be broken.
From an on-ice standpoint, I would have to say playing in the outdoor GLI Tournament at Comerica Park is at the top of the list. My sophomore year, we also went to the WCHA Final Five and that was a great experience. Lastly, I’d have to put scoring and beating the Gophers in Mariucci Arena, as well as playing at the beautiful Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks.
BH: Now pretty far removed from your time with the Black Hawks, what do you feel were the most important lessons you learned from being in Waterloo?
DS: The lessons I learned being in Waterloo have been with me ever since I left. Coach PK and Coach Fuki, teach you so many lessons not only as hockey players but as a human being too. The biggest lesson I learned is you have to be a pro every day. The way you act in the city and with the fans shows your character. You are here in their town to help them enjoy a championship with you. Therefore, you go out and make relationships with the fans of the community and respect the organization you are playing for. Lastly, this quote from PK will forever be engraved into my head “If you are five minutes early, you are five minutes late.” Basically meaning don’t show up exactly when you are supposed to be there. Oh, and to never wear your hat backwards…unless that’s the way you want your life to go. He’s had a few one liners that have stuck with me.
BH: What do you remember about Thanksgiving games in Waterloo? How did playing on Thanksgiving in front of the big crowd at Young Arena compare with other big-game situations you had experienced earlier in your career?
DS: Thanksgiving games in Waterloo are one of the best atmospheres I have ever played in. I remember my second year because I actually scored the goal that made Teddy Bears go wild on the ice, and if my memory serves me right, we won that game pretty handily. Whenever you can play your rival in an atmosphere like that; it’s something you do not forget. Though it was a relatively smaller crowd compared to my AA state championship game for Hill-Murray, those cowbells made it sound like there was 19,000 in Young Arena on those nights.
BH: Helping out with the Black Hawks orientation camp over the summer, was it tougher than you expected to relate to kids who are (or maybe just seem) quite a bit younger? Was it a strange experience, or did it feel natural to be back?
DS: First of all, it’s always great to be back in Waterloo. This place has a very special place in my heart. So really, it felt natural to be back. Every time I come back, I realize how much I miss Waterloo and the Black Hawks. It wasn’t hard to relate to the kids at all. I remember very clearly about my first try-out in Waterloo as a free-agent, so I know exactly what all those kids were going through. It’s stressful and I just helped the kids ease that stress as much as I could.
Where Are They Now is presented by Karen’s Print Rite. Photo by Keith Wallace. Special thanks to Ryan Whited and the Pensacola Ice Flyers.