Once Erik Higby graduated high school in his native Michigan in 2008, his family uprooted and moved down to Texas to follow his mother’s new job.
What intrigued Higby is that even though he was going from a hockey hotbed to the Sun Belt, he still found plenty of hockey opportunities along the way.
Higby, a 20-year-old from Shelby Township, Mich., played last year for the Mahoning Valley Phantoms in their final NAHL campaign and then joined the Topeka RoadRunners this year.
Higby is Topeka’s leading scorer by a wide margin and has also been near the top of the league’s scoring chart for much of the season. As of mid-January, Higby had 62 points through 46 games (second in the NAHL) and led the league with a plus-23 rating.
Landing in the NAHL was at the urging of Chris Coury, a longtime Midget AAA coach in Michigan. Higby played for Coury’s Belle Tire squad in 2007-08.
“After our season was over, Chris told me about some teams that were interested in me,” explained Higby. “I went to Mahoning Valley’s tryout and made the team, so I decided to play there.”
Higby said he’s been impressed with the level of play in the NAHL.
“I think the talent in our league is very good, maybe a little underrated compared to other leagues,” said Higby. “All the teams in our league have top players and lines that compete very strong.”
Still, moving south from the Detroit area was hard at first, but when Higby stepped aside and looked at the situation, it really wasn’t all that much of a life-changing situation.
“Hockey in Michigan is bigger of course, but down in San Antonio (where Higby now calls home), I live close to an ice rink and there are a lot more hockey players than I was expecting,” Higby said.
“Having to move from Michigan was a big decision for my family after living there my whole life. I miss seeing friends and family the most, but most of the time, I was away from home for hockey anyways, so it wasn't that big of a deal for me.”
In Topeka, Higby is still far from Texas, but road trips to his adopted home state make it all worthwhile.
“I like playing in Topeka,” said Higby. “The fans and people here are great. I like being closer to home so my family and friends can come see me play. When we make trips to Texas to play Wichita Falls and the Tornado is when I see my family the most. Topeka is still a good distance away from San Antonio, though.”
With the potential to play college hockey next season, Higby played in the Sherwood/NAHL Top Prospects Tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich., last month.
“I plan on attending school next fall and play hockey as well,” Higby said. “I’ve talked to a few schools so far and, hopefully, there are more to come.
“Top Prospects gave me more exposure. There were a lot of schools there and all the teams we played were really good. Top Prospects was very exciting and I think it’ll help a lot of players out in the long run.”