For Rui Encarnacao, his recent commitment to the University of Connecticut marks a couple of milestones.
For one, he’s the first-ever Janesville Jet to decide on a Division I school in the program’s inaugural season. And for the North American Hockey League (NAHL), he’s the first player who competed in last month’s Sherwood/NAHL Top Prospects Tournament to commit to a Division I program after the event.
Encarnacao, a 19-year-old forward who was selected by the Jets in last year’s NAHL Entry Draft, began communicating with the UConn coaching staff during a weekend series against the St. Louis Bandits in early January. Those conversations carried over to Top Prospects, which was held from January 18-20 in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“UConn was really my ideal choice all along because I've wanted to go somewhere where it's a great school for an education, a big-time school with all sports and a place where I'd have the opportunity to play right away,” said Encarnacao. “Also, it helped that UConn is just a short drive from my hometown and that the major I'm interested in is one of the top programs at the school (Kinesiology/Athletic Training).”
The Atlantic Hockey program and Encarnacao reconnected nearly two weeks after Top Prospects. That's when the White Plains, N.Y., native decided to become a Husky.
“The Top Prospects Tournament definitely did nothing but benefit me in terms of college exposure,” said Encarnacao, who tallied three goals and an assist at the three-game showcase. “I also talked to several schools at (September’s NAHL Showcase Tournament in Minnesota) and the next few weeks after that. None of the schools really caught my interest as much as UConn.”
And the Jets couldn’t be happier to see their leading scorer - Encarnacao has 24 goals for 41 points through 43 games - emerge as their first Division I-bound player.
“It’s an exciting time not only for Rui, but for the entire Jets organization,” said Jets head coach Dane Litke. “He’s worked hard this year and is very deserving of this accomplishment; it’s a great opportunity for him.”
Encarnacao is nothing but thankful for his opportunity with the Jets, and has no complaints about venturing to the Midwest this season to pursue a dream that will take him back east.
“My experience in Janesville has been great,” he said. “I’m definitely happy I chose to come here instead of anywhere else, because it got me to where I've been striving to go just about all my life, which is Division I hockey.
“A lot of the thanks goes to the coaches and my teammates because I couldn't have done it without their help,” he continued. “Janesville has done a ton towards my development of becoming a complete hockey player, which has given me the chance to get ready for the next level.”