In scouring the rosters of NAHL teams, the vast majority of players are American-born.
Not so with the Texas Tornado, which boasts forward Jack Prince, a native of the United Kingdom.
Prince is the lone Brit in the NAHL and takes pride in that fact.
“Of course, I hear it from other teams about where I’m from and things like that,” admitted Prince. “But I just laugh. If they want to call me names, I guess that means I’m different and I’m OK with that. Maybe they’re just jealous. Who knows?”
Prince might be new to the NAHL, but he’s certainly not new to North America, having played his two Bantam seasons with the Chicago Mission and the past two seasons of Midget Major hockey with the Detroit-based Little Caesars program. Last year, Little Caesars won the national championship.
Sandwiched between his Bantam and Midget Major years was a season back in England with a Midget Minor team.
Getting to the United States and making an impact happened strictly by chance many years ago, when Prince was just a wee tot.
“My dad got a job transfer to Detroit for two years when I was 3 and when we came here, all I did was watch the Detroit Red Wings,” Prince said. “When we got back, my parents asked me what sport I wanted to play and I said hockey. Then, when I was 13, I played in a tournament in Germany and a U.S. coach saw me and invited me to come play in the States.”
The next two years were spent in Chicago, but being away from home - and out of the country across the Atlantic - Prince never once felt homesick.
“My parents came to see me every two or three months, so that was nice,” noted Prince.
Also nice was Prince’s fortune in finding his way to Texas. Last December, the Mahoning Valley Phantoms tendered Prince, but once Mahoning Valley left the NAHL, Prince became a free agent and signed a tender with the Tornado just prior to the NAHL Entry Draft in May.
“I didn’t even know that Texas was coming back to the league,” Prince said. “But (Texas coach-GM) Tony Curtale called me and said he had seen me play and wanted me to come down and play for the Tornado.”
Still, even after signing his tender, Prince knew playing for the Tornado wasn’t automatic.
“I went to the tryout camp in Detroit to try and make a name for myself and prove to myself and the coaches that I deserved to be on the team,” said Prince. “I think I scored eight goals in four games at the camp, so I think that helped.”
Helped, indeed. Through 25 games this season, Prince sits atop the Texas scoring race with 12 goals among 26 points and a plus-13 rating.
“Jack is a great kid who works super hard,” Curtale said. “He is very coachable, has excellent hands and puck sense. He’s worked very hard on his conditioning and skating since he got here and has been a big part of our success so far."
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Prince said that the opportunities in youth and junior hockey in the U.S. far exceed what’s offered in his homeland.
“Once you finish your Midget Major year over there, you either turn pro, semi-pro or quit playing hockey altogether,” said Prince. “Over here, I know I have two more years in this league and then I want to play college hockey.
“I haven’t talked to any schools, and there are a couple I’d like to talk to, but if I play as hard as I can, I hope the schools see that and want to talk to me.”
Also bigger in North America is hockey presence. Prince said that while there are no Wayne Gretzky- or Mario Lemieux-type legends from England, one player does stand out.
“There was this player named Tony Hand who was drafted by Edmonton (in 1986) and came over here and played three games (of junior hockey) before he went home and never came back,” Prince explained. “That guy holds every hockey record in the pro leagues over there and he’s the best that’s ever come out of England. He’s not at the level of a Gretzky or Lemieux, but he’s pretty close.”
Improving his game to a greater level is also one of the biggest reasons why Prince chose to hone his skills in the NAHL.
“When I was a young teen, all I’ve thought about is hockey and being away from home. I haven’t had time to think about what I’m missing back home; all I want to do is continue my education and hockey,” said Prince.
“Since I’ve been here, all the players have bought in to what Coach Curtale is teaching and for me, I’ve always been told my vision and shot are great, but that my skating needs work. The coaches here are helping me with that and it’s just a great situation all the way around.”
As for the rest of the season, Prince sees good things ahead for the Tornado.
“We’re really starting to come together,” Prince said. “We’re starting to click and I think we can definitely move up and be the best in our division.”