The future is right now for Ben Plocar. The Traverse City North Stars defenseman is entering his final year of junior hockey, and kicked off what is undoubtedly his most important campaign on Friday at the opening of the North Stars' tryout camp at Centre ICE arena.
While Plocar's roster spot is among the most secure of the returning players, the Elkhart Lake, Wis., native knows that his performance in 2007-08 will dictate where he plays his college hockey the following autumn.
"By this time next year, I want to have my bags packed, ready to go play college hockey," said Plocar, who is entering his fourth year at the Junior A level. "I'd like to be set in my commitment somewhere as early as possible to just get that part of it taken care of and be able to totally focus on this season and getting better as a team and individually. I'd like to get to the NAHL Showcase (Sept. 19-22) and go 100 percent right out of the gate."
Stars coach-GM Anthony Palumbo says he's looking for big things from the 6-foot-3, 220-pound rearguard.
"We expect him to be one of the leaders on this team, and a go-to guy on defense," said the first-year skipper. "We anticipate that he'll carry a pretty big load on special teams, and that shot of his will be a big asset on the power play."
Plocar came to Traverse City last Nov. 20 from the Springfield Jr. Blues in a straight-up swap for original North Stars blueliner Richie Zobak. In the 34 contests following the deal, Plocar scored five goals and assisted on 11 others, including nine points on the power play plus a shorthanded marker. His initial reaction to the trade was not a favorable one.
"I had been in Springfield for three years and I didn't want to leave," Plocar admitted. "I didn't know anything about Traverse City. I had to go online to learn about it. Coach made me a deal: He said if I came for a couple weeks and didn't like it, he said he'd move me along somewhere else. But by that time, I was starting to get to know the guys and the area and I didn't want to leave. In fact, I realized how
much I missed Traverse City this weekend when I was driving up here. It's a great place to be in the summertime, too."
Plocar, who plans on majoring in secondary education when he gets to college, says he wants to play at an NCAA institution that has the best balance of athletics and academics for his chosen post-graduation profession. Palumbo says he has the tools to garner the attention of collegiate scouts.
"Ben has good vision and really good puck skills, plus with his height he's got that long reach," Palumbo said. "If there's an area to work on it's his footwork, but we think he can succeed at the next level. This is an important year for him. It's his final year of juniors, and he needs to show he can play NCAA Division I hockey like we think he can."
For this weekend, Plocar will focus on his conditioning and getting the competitive juices flowing again.
"At home you skate once, twice a week and it's just not the same," said Plocar, who is on the camp's Red Team along with fellow returnees Alex Breeden and Sabastion Kimmel, plus tender Marc Thompson. "A camp like this is intense and competitive, and that's something you don't get a lot of in the offseason.
"It's the starting point for the most important season of my junior career."