Fifteen years after trying out for the Waterloo Black Hawks for the first time, Bryce Anderson is part of the team.
“I had actually practiced with the Black Hawks my senior year [at Waterloo East High School] and tried out, and admittedly wasn’t ready for the league at that time,” Anderson remembers.
On the ice at McElroy Auditorium almost as soon as he could walk, Anderson grew up in the Waterloo Youth Hockey Association. He played high school hockey for the Waterloo Warriors and graduated into the junior ranks playing in the USHL, but never for the Hawks. Now Anderson is in his first season as a Black Hawks assistant coach.
“I’m just so thankful to have the opportunity to be a part of this great organization,” Anderson says. “I started skating with the Waterloo Jr. Hawks when I was four, and had an opportunity to go to a lot of Waterloo Black Hawks games back then with the Ferraro’s [Chris and Peter] and Jason Blake – players I looked up to as a kid.
“I continued to grow through the youth program here and into the Waterloo Warrior experience, with the hope and goal that I would be playing here as a Waterloo Black Hawk.”
Anderson’s ambition to play junior hockey received a boost during his final year of high school. The Warriors made a strong showing at the 2000 Midwest High School Hockey League Tournament. In the midst of the team’s third place finish, Anderson was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“It gave me confidence that there was perhaps hockey after the Warriors,” recalls Anderson. “Coaches Mike Brown and Scott Murphy taught me many life lessons, as well as hockey.”
His next stop was in Minot, North Dakota, in the America West Hockey League. A season with the Muskies provided Anderson with the opportunity to develop his abilities further. Yet after trying out for the Black Hawks the following summer, his name was still not on the roster.
“That was when I found an opportunity in Rochester. I played a year with the Mustangs there. After that, Rochester folded…I still had hopes of playing here in Waterloo, but the way timing of a tryout with Des Moines worked out and the opportunity that I had there with the Buccaneers, that was where I landed in my last year of junior hockey.
“It was always a goal to play here. It didn’t happen, but sometimes I think that made me a better person,” Anderson speculates.
He admits that he had extra motivation when Rochester or Des Moines played against Waterloo, but says playing at Young Arena was special, even as an opposing player.
“There was always a big extra cheer, it seemed, if my name was mentioned over the loudspeaker, or even when I was on the ice. Those moments…you don’t forget as a player, even though you’re dialed in and focused on the game. You still definitely remember and hear those things.”
Anderson’s last game as a junior player was against the Black Hawks. In double-overtime during Game Four of a best-of-five playoff series, the Hawks scratched out a 5-4 victory. Hockey fans in Waterloo had waited 15 years for their club to move past the first round. Meanwhile, for Anderson, the waiting to find out where he might play next, and in what role, was only beginning.
“I was a recruited walk-on at Ohio State, and it was late in the spring before the opportunity came. Coming in as a 21-year-old, I was part of an eight person class, and it was just like the years before in junior where I had to compete for ice time and adapt my game and do what I could to help the team succeed.
“Having several setbacks, but growing through those…getting cut by several teams and battling to make teams and get in the lineup…all of that ultimately prepared me for my experience at Ohio State.
In 2003/04 – Anderson’s freshman season – the Buckeyes won the Central Collegiate Hockey Association Championship, which Anderson considers the biggest highlight of his hockey career. He finished his four years at Ohio State and graduated in 2007.
“It was a great experience, both from a hockey standpoint and an academic standpoint. It just goes to show that with a goal, even taking the hard route sometimes, it still paid off.”
Anderson did fulfill another dream, skating the closing portion of the 2006/07 season with the Dayton Bombers of the ECHL. Following his brief experience as a professional hockey player, Anderson retired from the game and moved to Chicago to work in investment consulting.
Now joining the Black Hawks, Anderson would like to help his hometown club to a championship season. Whether or not the team achieves that goal, Anderson’s experience – in perseverance as much as hockey – will be beneficial to the 2015/16 Hawks.
“Having the opportunity to work with such highly-skilled, highly-motivated players from all over the world pursing the same goal that I did when I was their age…it’s fun to come to the rink every day.”
Fun. And the fulfillment of a life-long dream.