Seth Ambroz is a name you’ll want to remember.
Like the frosty winds of a Minnesota winter, his story was swirling towards a perfect storm. Now things are starting to look more like a coulda, shoulda, woulda situation.
He was scheduled to start at the University of Minnesota in a few months, where he coulda been in the starting line-up when they face-off with his brother’s college team in October.
The 6’3″ 205 pound forward has risen to the challenge at every level he’s played, so he shoulda been able to help a Gophers team that will desperately be trying to reach the Frozen Four next spring…a championship tournament they’ll be hosting at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.
That same building will then host the 2011 NHL Draft a few months later…and after what was expected to be a stand-out freshman season for the hometown boy, it woulda been a fairytale ending when he was selected with one of the first few picks in the first round.
Well, the too-perfect script has been going through some editing in recent weeks. It was just announced that Seth will not be starting at the U (what the locals call it) in the fall. Seems the coach isn’t confident he can find him enough playing time, so he’s shuttling him back to the Omaha Lancers of the USHL – where Seth has netted 36 goals and posted 80 points in 116 games over the last two seasons, all while being one of the youngest players in the league.
From all accounts, he appears to be the real deal. While he may be playing for a different team than originally expected this coming season, scouts are very high on him. The International Scouting Service has him rated fifth among all prospects for the next NHL draft.
In an NHL.com article they referred to him as “one of the most talked-about prospects” and had comments from a scout who said “He’s good at all facets of the game”. His coach in Omaha has been equally impressed, saying “He’s a special kid. To think, he started on our third line (in 2008-09) and ended up on the top line.”
Another interesting wrinkle in this story is that Seth’s Lancers team is owned by a group of hockey legends, including Mario Lemieux and Kings President, Luc Robitaille. Having seen Seth play at a few games he’s attend over the last two seasons, Lucky wasn’t shy when I asked him for some observations, “He’s been a real team player and a good all-around person. As a player, he shows great competitiveness and a willingness to compete and battle around the net, and he combines that with vision and an understanding of the game.”
For a guy that made a living around the net, that’s some pretty high praise.
In today’s Future Friday spotlight, we talk with Seth Ambroz to get some first hand information from the guy that may just wind up going first overall at next June’s NHL draft.
It was challenging at the start. As an 8th grader, most people didn’t expect me to play much. I came in and surprised a lot of people by becoming one of the top players on the team for the two years I was there. When I went on to Omaha I was already used to playing with guys older than me. Even so, people questioned if I would be able to make an impact or be playing a lot. I think I surprised everybody again.
How did you actually end up in Omaha, you weren’t drafted…
My brother played in Tri-City (USHL) before he started college. His coach there was Bliss Littler, who became the coach in Omaha. So, he knew who I was and about my play in high school. He invited me to tryout with the Lancers and I made the team out of the tryouts.
When you went to the tryout camp was it what you expected?
I’d say it was what I expected - a high paced, physical game. I knew it would be a lot different than high school because I had watched a lot of my brother’s games. Going to the tryout I felt like I fit in pretty well and the situation felt right.
Leaving home and moving to Omaha at such a young age had to be tough…
The biggest challenge would be the home sickness. It’s kinda hard to leave home right away. But, once you get down there, you get into a schedule and your routine makes it so you don’t even think about it too much.
This year in the playoffs you guys took Fargo to a fifth and final game in the semi-finals. After beating them 6-2 in game 4 on the road, how confident were you coming home for game 5?
Really confident. I thought we had that one in the bag. We had all the momentum going back home. We just couldn’t get going right out of the gates and didn’t start out well. They had the first two goals, I think. And from there, we just never got anything going. Once we finally scored a goal, we should have kept our foot on the gas, but didn’t. They just kept coming back.
Last November you were asked to play for Team USA’s Under-17 team at the Four Nations Cup in Slovakia. You guys went 3-0 to take gold and you led the team with five goals. Can you talk a little about that experience…
It was great. Playing overseas is a different game, it’s a lot less physical. The reffing is a lot tighter over there and you have to adapt. Measuring yourself against the top players in Europe is a fun experience and I enjoyed being there with such a good group of guys.
Some of the interesting stories that players often bring back from those sorts of trips revolve around food. Did you have to eat any interesting meals while you were there?
We had pretty good food for the most part. The one weird thing I thought was when we were eating eggs. Somebody said we weren’t eating chicken eggs, we were eating duck eggs. I don’t know if that’s true or not. The yoke wasn’t yellow though, it was orange.
Just days before that tournament your Lancers team went to Michigan to play the US Development Team. Was that weird for you, playing against some of the guys that would be your teammates in a few days?
It wasn’t too bad. I knew some of the guys on the team already, but it’s just another game. At that time, I was playing for the Lancers. So, I just had to play my game. Then, later I joined Team USA to go overseas. Later on, it was a lot of fun playing against those guys again towards the end of the season. It makes things more fun when you know the people you’re playing against.
Your whole family plays hockey, right…your sister is at Minnesota-Duluth and your brother is at Nebraska-Omaha (note: also the former school of LA Kings winger Scott Parse)…
Exactly. I really look up to my brother. He’s the one that got me into hockey and was the first person in my family to play. Growing up I watched him all the time and still do in college. One of the things I really like about him is his work ethic. He’s taught me to work hard and he won’t let me slip up much. I’d say he’s been my biggest role model throughout my hockey career.
Now you were drafted by the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, but chose to commit to the University of Minnesota. College hockey vs. major juniors is always a hot topic for young players. What were the major factors in your decision to go that route?
I grew up watching the Gophers, they were right in my back yard. (no pun intended) You can’t go wrong either way though, both leagues have good good programs. Some might say that college hockey is a different type of hockey when compared to major juniors. But, I feel like whichever way I go, I should be successful. I just need to keep working hard and progressing either way.
Last month, Southern California natives Emerson Etem and Beau Bennett were able to experience the thrill of being drafted in Los Angeles. With the draft being in the Twin Cities next summer, have you given any thought to what it might mean to be drafted in your hometown, versus the draft being in someplace like Ottawa or Pittsburgh?
Absolutely. It’s going to be great. I’ll have a lot of support there too. It should be a blast. However, I’m not thinking about it too much right now. I’m just trying to continue my development this summer. I’m sure I’ll be thinking about things more near the end of the season. For now, I want to remain focused on what I’m doing and try not to worry too much about it.
Speaking of what you’re doing now, next month you’re headed to the Czech Republic with Team USA’s Under-18 Select Team to compete in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament (Aug 9 -14). Any thoughts or expectations as you’re getting ready to go overseas again?
Wearing the USA jersey is a great honor. It doesn’t get much better than representing your country. It’s the best tournament for U-18s, so there will be a lot of great competition. We’ll need to approach it like it’s just another day at the rink though. Hopefully, we can bring back another gold medal.
You’ve been participating in a 3-on-3 league with some pro players this summer. Tell us about a few of the guys you’ve been playing with and how the games are going for you.
It’s a fun league. Shjon Podein put it together. We play on a smaller rink, so you get to work on your game in tight areas. There are some college guys and some pros, like Tim Jackman (Calgary Flames). Last year Dustin Byfuglien played (Atlanta Thrashers). Jonathan Towes (Chicago Blackhawks) played for a week. Different guys come through at different times, so it just depends who’s in town that day.
It was announced earlier this week that Minnesota isn’t going to have a spot for you this fall. Adversity is something that every player goes through in their career. How are you going to ensure that you don’t let this setback negatively effect your game this season?
I’m just going to go out there and play my game and try not to think about it too much. It is what it is, right? I need to focus on what’s ahead of me and try to get better everyday. It would have been great playing for the U, but I need to stay mentally tough and focus on having a great year.
With this change of events, will you reconsider your plans to go to Minnesota…possibly change schools or even go to the WHL?
The WHL is always an option. As of right now though, my team is Omaha and the college I plan on going to is Minnesota. I’m not really looking into much else right now. We’ll just have to see what happens in the future.
Well, your future includes the draft next June. So, what aspect of your game are you going to work on the most this season leading up to the big event?
I need to work on my first three steps. I need to keep getting faster and quicker. But, really, I can still improve in all areas of the game. Getting stronger is important too.
What three things has hockey taught you?
It’s taught me to always have a positive attitude, work hard and most of all it’s taught me to have fun.
When you go pro what number do you hope to be wearing and what’s the significance of it?
I wouldn’t mind wearing #27, which is what I wear now. However, if I’m lucky enough to make it to the NHL, I’ll wear any number they want, as long as I get a jersey.
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This season will be the 25th anniversary of the Omaha Lancers. For their silver season they’re unexpectedly getting back a player with size and skill…and more importantly a great attitude.
Seth Ambroz has his eye on the prize too – the 2011 NHL Draft. Being selected early in the first round, in his hometown arena, would provide a silver lining to the dark clouds that just rolled in.
Summer School w/ Ambroz – his thoughts on participating in the NHL Research and Development Camp
Interview with Matt Nieto – Long Beach native, probable 1st round pick at 2011 NHL Draft
Ambroz and Nieto breakdown NHL R&D Camp - exclusive comments