Michael Juola is making the most of his final season of junior hockey.
A 20-year-old from California, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs forward was tied for the top spot on the league’s scoring chart with teammate Mark Pustin and Springfield’s Nick Curry with 29 points (seven goals) through 21 games.
For Juola, the opportunity to play in the NAHL is something he’s confident can further his development and push him up the ladder as he eyes college hockey.
“I definitely believe that playing for a solid team and organization like Fairbanks will help me in my hopes of moving on next year,” said Juola. “The program has an amazing track record of not only moving players on, but preparing them for the next level.”
The fact that Juola, a forward, is even in the NAHL speaks volumes on how far he’s come. He only started playing ice hockey seven years ago after starting out on the roller hockey rink back home.
After stints in two other junior leagues, moving to Alaska has been a culture shock for Juola as well.
“The differences are pretty easy to pick out, mainly the weather,” laughed Juola, who played AAA hockey for the California Wave and Los Angeles Jr. Kings. “While I’m bundled up because it’s negative 40 degrees and talking to my friends back in California who are at the beach getting a tan, I start to sense I made a bit of a change in lifestyles.”
Now in his second NAHL season, Juola had little doubt that the league’s competition and exposure will get him noticed.
“I was thinking about a few other options, but Fairbanks’ reputation made it sort of a no-brainer,” said Juola.
Looking at the future in California, Juola said he thinks his home state is slowly building a reputation for producing quality hockey players, even if some people still feel Californians are better suited for other activities.
“When people in Alaska find out where I’m from, they give me that look like, ‘Well, what are you doing playing hockey? Get back on your surfboard,’” said Juola, one of three California players on the Ice Dogs' roster along with Pustin and Sean O’Rourke.
“But in all reality, I think it really says something about the progress the state has made in the hockey world when California natives have led the NAHL in scoring the past two years (Adam Cardwell in 2007-08 and Austin Block, another Ice Dog, last season).”
And if Juola or Pustin keep it up, it could be a hat trick for the Golden State.