Turning your passion into your profession is something many dream about, but often fall short. Not for Jake Sanderson of the University of North Dakota hockey team, who is well on his way to achieving this goal. I was lucky enough to sit down with Jake and talk to him about his past, his time at UND, the 2020 NHL draft, and his future revolving around the sport he loves.
Starting out you were born in Whitefish, Montana, right?
Yeah, Whitefish Montana.
Did you grow up there or did you move around?
I moved a lot when I was younger just because my dad was playing. Me and my older brother Ben were both born in Whitefish, but we moved up to Calgary when I was about 12. Then I went to school in Calgary and played hockey up there for around five years before moving to Michigan and played junior hockey out there.
So, your dad was obviously a professional for many years, how did you end up being born in Whitefish if he was bouncing around major cities?
Yeah, Whitefish was kind of like the summer spot that my dad would go to and we have had our place there for twenty-five years so they would go down there all the time. Summertime was when me and my brother were born so we would spend our summers there.
I’ve seen a lot about Whitefish, seems like a beautiful area. Is there a big hockey scene out there?
Not really, especially around the time I was there it wasn’t. I go back there every summer and it grows and grows every summer I go back. There is usually one pretty good hockey camp that they do down there, and they get a lot of good up and coming prospects so it’s a pretty good camp.
I’m not sure if you know this but if you keep on this trajectory and make it to the NHL you will be only the second professional hockey player from Montana. And do you think your success will lead to more kids in Montana to start to play hockey?
Yeah, I heard that. That’s crazy to think of and I hope so. I think If I keep going on this trajectory like you said, I hope so some younger kids in Montana and Whitefish look up to that and want to be hockey players as well.
So, your dad is similar to that being from the Northwest Territories
Yeah, my dad was born in Hay River, Northwest Territories and that at the time was a little coal town, but from what my dad told me the town doesn’t even exist anymore. He and his three brothers lived in a trailer when they were younger and then they moved to Edmonton. Which is also where my mom is from.
Easy to say that you come from a hockey family?
Yeah absolutely, even my mom loves hockey too.
With that do you feel like there was any pressure to become a hockey player?
There wasn’t any pressure at all. When I was younger and the same goes for my brothers, we played a ton of sports in elementary school and middle school and my dad didn’t pressure hockey on us at all. I think he was just trying to show us the sport that he loved to do, and it turned out that all three of us loved to play hockey as well.
So, you went on to play juniors, and came time to make the decision of whether to go to college, what were some of the main things that convinced you to go to school?
I think school is really important in our family and my mom really wanted me to go to school. My dad played in the western league and he didn’t go to school so he kind of had a viewpoint on his path. My uncle and grandpa both went to college, so I asked them about it. My dad really wanted me to play college hockey, so you get more time to develop and you get that college experience. There is nothing like that you know, especially here at North Dakota in the Ralph, there is nothing else like it on earth so it’s a pretty special spot.
So while you were going through the recruiting process here, what stood out about UND?
I think I would say the rink and the facilities are all really cool and really nice but the number one thing had to be the coaching staff. For them to fly all the way out to western Canada to watch me play and recruit me. That meant a lot to me and my family because at the time they were the only school talking to me, so the coaching staff’s loyalty and honesty intrigued me to come to this school.
That’s surprising, normally I would guess the Ralph and the facilities are the main attracting feature here.
Yeah, it’s all pretty great but, you know even in my time here during the summer and the past couple months, the coaching staff is unreal. I think it’s safe to say there wouldn’t be any other spot in college hockey that I would be at.
In the summer you have been here, how does UND feel different than anywhere else you have played?
I think just being around the older players. They are a lot bigger, stronger, and faster since it’s the next step up from juniors so I’m getting adjusted to that. But I’m loving it, I loved coming here in the summer. It was pretty hot which was kind of nice, it’s getting a little colder now but going to the rink kind of helps it all.
The team was doing very well last year before the shutdown. What do you think you add to the team specifically and what are your aspirations for this year?
I think personally I add the player that I am, a tow way defenseman that competes really hard in all situations. But about all the returning players, I think it shows how much they love this school and how special winning is and what this culture at North Dakota means to them. I’m really excited about the team we have, so many of those returning guys had great years last year and I’m just really pumped.
So, everyone talks about your skating ability, lock down defenseman. What do you think is the most underrated part of your game?
I think the most underrated part of my game is my offensive upside. I think people kind of don’t really look at that side because I take a lot of pride in my defensive game. I say I’m a two-way defenseman, but I think my offensive side of the game is underrated just because I’m not as flashy as other players but once you watch me more and more you will see what I do for the team.
Is there any one part of your game that you would want to improve?
Yeah, I want to improve all my strengths like my skating, but maybe improve my size a little. Put some more muscle on my body getting ready for college hockey because I think that will be important.
Ok we can talk a little bit about draft day. When you woke up on draft day what was your immediate feeling
I was excited. I wasn’t really nervous at the time I was just mostly excited because it’s something that has been pushed back for such a long time because of what’s going on in the world right now. I was so pumped it was finally here and pumped my family could be here for it. It was a great experience.
So, the draft starts, and teams tick away, did you have a team in mind or a city that you would like to see yourself go to?
Not really. I don’t want to speak for other players but just to be in the opportunity to be drafted is so special in itself. And it ended up to be Ottawa which I was so pumped about, Talking to Jacob Bernard-Docker and Shane Pinto about the great spot and the great coaches. They loved it all and I am really excited about Ottawa.
Obviously, Ottawa has been loving them some UND players lately. How cool would it be to move to the pros with Bernard-Docker?
That would be so exciting, that was one of the first thing my brother told me because he played with Jacob when he was younger. I think that would be pretty special.
What do you think of the new Ottawa uniforms?
Oh, those are sick. Mine is being sent to Calgary with my family and I can’t wait to get a picture with it.
What was it like after the draft?
Yeah, it was really busy. The next day four of us on the team heading out to Michigan for the world junior’s tryout, I didn’t get a lot of time to celebrate but being with my family and having them there to celebrate was the main thing. It was a quick turnaround.
Getting into the season, it’s going to start with the bubble down in Omaha. Is this different, almost tournament style, going to change the way you go into games?
Not really. I looked at the schedule and it does look a little like a tournament, but I don’t think it’s going to change much. I’m super pumped just to get to the bubble just to play some hockey. I haven’t played a game in who knows how long but I’m really looking forward to it.
So, after that coming back home to the Ralph, what’s it going to be like first time hitting the ice in front of a hopefully packed arena?
I’m really excited for that in the second half so we can play at the Ralph and at our home arena. Obviously, I don’t know what the actual atmosphere is like but some of the guys have told me about how it’s just unreal and they are shaking in their boots because the crowd is just going crazy. Hopefully, we can get some fans in there because I’m looking forward to that.
Moving to stuff outside of hockey. What do you like to do in your free time?
Not a whole lot right now with hockey and school besides hanging out with the guys. But when I’m back in Whitefish we love to go fishing. We live right on the lake, so we just walk right out into the backyard. I also love to go mountain biking in Whitefish so that’s definitely one of my hobbies. It’s so fun going on trails and Whitefish is a beautiful spot for it.
So, let’s say you have that wonderful all-star and Stanley cup filled career and it’s time to wrap it up. What does life after hockey look like?
Well, I don’t really see a life after hockey because I plan on always being a part of hockey whether I’m playing or not. My major is kinesiology so maybe being an athletic trainer for a team or coaching.
Let’s say you take a slapshot to the face and you lose a few teeth. Are you going fakes or are you going old school hockey and leaving the gap?
Ha ha. I would probably get some fake teeth. Yeah, I don’t know if I could leave the big gap in there. My parents spent too much money on braces for me and my brothers, so I think I’d get some fakes.
So obviously growing up you had to make some sacrifices to get to the level that you are now. What were some of those?
I think the biggest one is moving away from home. I think everybody has to move away from home if they want to be successful in hockey. I had to do that when I was sixteen, moving to Michigan without being there before. I visited there with my mom and ended up moving there a few months later. That was probably the biggest change in my life so far.
What are some keys to greatness you live by or want to strive by to get to your goals?
I think the generic one is working hard. But it’s true, you have to work hard and outwork everybody, even doing extra work. I think asking for help and asking for feedback as well. It may be hard sometimes because you don’t want to be judged but you have to do it to improve yourself. Also love for the game. Personally, I just love to play hockey. It’s my whole life and I think it always will be.
Do you have a favorite quote?
Oh, I have a lot of favorite quotes. “Learn from the past, prepare for the future, preform in the present.” “What are you doing when no one is looking.” “Pain is temporary, but the win is forever.” I have a ton of them.
After the conversation I had with Jake, I could understand his love of the game, his drive that fuels him to become a better player, and the dedication he has to his hometown. His passion for the game of hockey seemed unquestioned and that pure love will drive him to do great things. Showing the characteristics of his hometown, he seems very grateful for everything he has achieved and is ready to work hard for the next chapter here at UND and beyond. UND seems to have found a well-rounded person on and off the ice and I wish him nothing but the best of luck in the upcoming season and all the success that is sure to follow.