Florida Gulf Coast Star Sticks To Dream2010-09-27
ACHA M2 player signs professional contract with American Hockey League team.
by Josh Siegel
Reprinted With Permission of "Eagle News"
The Student Newspaper at Florida Gulf Coast University
Often mocked by critics as a glorified social hangout, club hockey hardly passes as a haven for professional talent.
The crippling inability of Division 2 and Division 3 collegiate programs to offer scholarships and financial aid (in most cases) means top recruits flock elsewhere as professional hockey scouts follow.
Mike Sellitto, a 2010 graduate of FGCU and current member of New York Islanders affiliate the Bridgeport (CT) Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League (AHL) - a 30-team pro hockey league that serves as a developmental circuit for the NHL - refuses to share the skeptics' rigidity.
"I'm excited to have made it to where I have and I know more players at FGCU can follow what I've done," said Sellitto, the first FGCU alum to play minor league hockey. "Every kid who grows up playing a competitive sport dreams to play professionally and I've always carried that with me. I am lucky playing at FGCU was a step toward doing that."
Without hovering scouts at games, Sellitto took initiative in finding an agent and sending videotapes to NHL organizations.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and New York Islanders showed interest, with the Islanders inviting him to their prospect camp July 7.
Reveling in the glare of the spotlight, Sellitto impressed, earning a contract with the Islanders organization for the upcoming season.
"It was an unbelievable experience playing with top prospects and rookies from all over the world," Sellitto said of the Islanders' prospect camp. "I really got lucky. I just kept working hard and took advantage of an opportunity and somebody saw me."
FGCU hockey club president Jason Almcrantz saw firsthand the skills that separate Sellitto from other middling lower division prospects.
"He is a solid kid and a strong skater who will make the right play 99 percent of the time," Almcrantz explained. "By the end of last year every forward was begging to be on his line because he makes everybody better."
Players come into the FGCU program without the clout of a big money scholarship and Division 1 status, meaning the depth chart is determined by results rather then preconceived fallacies.
"This is not from firsthand, but I know when Mike first came to the team, he was barely dressing," Almcrantz said. "But the coaches at FGCU give everyone the same opportunity and Mike took advantage, getting better every year."
Born in New York, Sellitto began skating at three years old.
Though there are no hockey roots in his family, Sellitto's father served as a mentor, pushing his son to relish the pursuit of success.
At 12 years old, Sellitto left the bounty of hockey opportunities and resources in New York for the nowhere of Florida.
Floridians' preference for the sultriness of fields and waves make the state a hockey Siberia, shown by the fact that only three players in the NHL are from Florida, according to hockeyreference.com.
"That (The lack of hockey culture in Florida) definitely makes things 100 percent harder," Sellitto said. "But we have a lot of good kids coming out now with a chance to make a name for themselves."
Because of that lack of culture, Sellitto played club hockey, a move that might have better served his career. According to Almcrantz, the weighty, strenuous nature of Division 1 hockey can be diminishing, giving players false security.
"I have friends that play Division 1 that hate it," Almcrantz said. "The captain of the UNH (University of New Hampshire) team was failing in school but was able to continue his studies so he could play hockey. There is this perception that club hockey isn't great, but really it's less stressful and allows for the growth of a well-rounded person."
When a player does make it, club hockey is able to replenish its talent base, and sell itself as grounds for extending a dream.
"When we had our welcome meeting at the beginning of the year I was able to say, ‘Look at this guy' (Sellitto)," Almcrantz said. "Club hockey is not the end of your hockey career if you don't want it to be."
While an academic-based program and a 40-game season traveled by plane can't compare to an the humbleness of an 80-game grind full of bus rides, Sellitto feels FGCU has readied him for what's ahead.
"So far, minor league hockey has been everything you can imagine but a lot harder," Sellitto said. "We will work out an hour and a half a day and skate an hour and a half a day compared to playing four times a week with club hockey. But FGCU is what helped me move up in the hockey world."