It’s a long way from northern California to the Upper Peninsula, but Dan Radke has always felt right at home in the Soo.
The Traverse City North Stars center and Orinda, Calif., native spent the previous two seasons plying his trade for the Midget Major Soo (Mich.) Indians - just across the river from his father’s hometown. Now Radke will be able to keep the home fires burning for at least four more years, having committed to play collegiately at Lake Superior State University.
“The Soo is like a second home to me,” said Radke, who is tentatively slated to join the CCHA’s Lakers in 2010-11 along with fellow Stars forward Kyle Jean. “Lots of aunts, uncles, cousins and friends there. Growing up in California, I never got to play in front of them, but when I got to the Indians, they were very supportive, always coming out to the games.
“When I came to the Soo, the goal was to earn a college scholarship. It’s been a bit of a journey, but it all seems worth it now that college hockey is a reality. It’s pretty exciting to get the chance to do that so close to family and friends.”
North Stars head coach Anthony Palumbo, an LSSU alum and two-time national champion with the Lakers, says his alma mater is getting a dynamic contributor.
“I think they (LSSU) saw what we saw as a Midget Major, and that was the day-in, day-out best player on the rink,” Palumbo opined. “He has great vision and great skill, he sees the entire ice. With his great sense of anticipation, he’s an offensive performer and is really starting to come into his own at the junior level.”
Radke has six goals and 19 assists through 33 games this year for Traverse City, but has 11 points in his last 11 games, including three in a 3-1 win at Alpena on Feb. 28 where he bagged the game-winning tally.
The recent increase in statsheet ink coincides with a more frequent shift - something that Radke had grown accustomed to playing in sport-diverse California.
“Out there, playing time was never really an issue,” said the Traverse City Central High School senior. “The term ‘healthy scratch’ was a whole new thing when I got to the Soo, and again when I got to Traverse City. It’s tough, and no competitor likes it. I just tried to keep working hard and to make the most of my opportunities when they came along.”
Radke led the Indians in scoring last season with 32 goals and 31 assists in 58 games, including six multiple-point outings in the Soo’s 26 league contests. He was tendered along with fellow Indians stalwart and current North Stars defenseman Bo Jacobs.
“I try to be a complete player at both ends of the ice, but, like most guys, it’s fun to try to score goals, to make plays,” Radke explained. “Things were a lot faster and a lot more physical when I got here (to juniors); you have to do everything out there a little bit faster at this level.”
While his formidable acumen has emerged at the junior level, Radke may well have caught the eye of Lake State coach Jim Roque as a Midget.
“We practiced in the same rink, right after them, all the time,” he explained. “Their staff would see us practice, see our games. I thought maybe someday there’d be a chance of going there, given all that exposure.”
Radke and the North Stars have a critical weekend ahead of them, with the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 squad coming into Centre ICE arena for a Friday-Saturday series that will go a long way in determining playoff position in the NAHL’s North Division. The teams are currently tied for second place - and the final home-ice postseason slot - but USA has three games in hand.
“It’s a big weekend, no doubt,” Radke admitted. “That’s who were fighting it out with for second place right now. Of course, we’d like to get the home ice, it’s where we seem to be most comfortable, record-wise.”
Radke, who sports a 3.71 grade-point average and scored a 28 on the ACT, plans to major in Math at Lake Superior with an eye on graduate school. His father is a professor of geographic information sciences at Cal-Berkley.
While there are sure to be many happy homecomings for the Radke family, Dan’s Soo relations will almost certainly help slake his college-caliber appetite.
“I have one aunt who’s an especially awesome cook,” he added. “My favorite is this lemon-poppy loaf, and she makes a mean bean salad, too.”