Stecher leaves mark of maturity

UND sophomore continues improvement

His mom always called him the human Zamboni.

The 4-year-old version of Troy Stecher was putting on hockey gear in his living room for the first time when his brother handed him a pair of bright blue gloves. He was on the orange team.

People would turn their glances toward the skater that stuck out like a sore thumb. That didn’t really bother Stecher. He was in his element — following the hockey path of his dad and older brother who had both played juniors, and reinforcing his mother’s endearing compliment.

His influences came from familiar figures — a father, an older brother — and eventually it was Raymond Bourque. Stecher was going to model his game after the Canadian defenseman who played for the Boston Bruins for more than 20 seasons.

It started with the number on his jersey.

Stecher wore No. 77 on his back for three years with the Penticton Vees in the BCHL — the same number Bourque wore in the NHL.

He was 10 or 12 when he realized hockey was what he was going to stick with. It was more than just a game to pass the time when he was young; he was going somewhere.

Eventually, the Richmond, British Columbia native was wearing a green and white jersey for UND.

“It’s always been my dream school for college,” Stecher said. “It was a kind of a no-brainer for me.”

In his second season with North Dakota, Stecher has experienced the highs and lows of being part of a program with a high level of commitment and tradition — perhaps more highs this season than lows. The road to the Frozen Four was once again traveled.

This year, though, Stecher is skating in the same city where his childhood idol left a legendary mark. Bourque’s influence flows throughout the Boston Bruins program.

Stecher is wearing a different number this time, and he’s been continuing to develop both on and off the ice.

As the only freshman to skate in all 42 games last season, Stecher came in to the program with a high level of maturity.

“He’s slowly doing a great job,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “He was a very mature young guy coming in. On the ice, I think his competitiveness and his maturity were outstanding from the day he stepped on campus. Is it improving? Absolutely. I think off the ice, every young man comes here and grows up through this time of the year, and there’s no question that’s the case with Troy as well.”

Stecher was somewhat accustomed to the high level of commitment at UND after skating with Penticton. He walked through the doors to Ralph Engelstad Arena with Wade Murphy, and he had spent time playing with Mark MacMillan and Brendan O’Donnell in the past.

Familiar faces made the transition a little easier, and Stecher gained confidence that carried him through his nearly two seasons at UND.

“I think this year I’ve taken on a bit of a leadership role.” Stecher said. “I think I’m kind of more outspoken now. I feel comfortable in the dressing room saying what’s on my mind. I’m not going to sugar coat anything. I’m going to say it how it is. I think the players respect that. Everyone in that room wants to win and I think you need that if you want to win. You can’t sugar coat things; you’ve got to say it how it is and no one’s going to take it personally. They understand it’s for the better success of our hockey team.”

For North Dakota, that success emanates from the mindset of the players.

Before traveling to Boston, the team has blocked 565 shots this season — an NCHC leading mark and No. 11 overall.

Stecher has been a significant piece of that statistic. The sophomore had blocked an average 2.12 shots per game prior to Boston and knows the team’s dedication stems from skaters throughout the program’s tradition.

Stecher said he knows his coaches were also part of hard-nosed teams that blocked shots.

Whether Stecher is on the blue line or in the locker room with his teammates, he has a distinct personality.

“Everyone loves Troy,” senior forward Michael Parks said. “His compete level is so high and I think he’s just he’s a player that everyone wants to have on their team. I know he’s just hard to play against in practice and he makes everyone around him better. We’re lucky to have him.”

Ending the season on the highest stage in college hockey is all Stecher knows. This was his second trip, but it felt a little different.

“Last year, we weren’t ranked nearly as high,” Stecher said. “We made it, so that was kind of a special run — just to know what we did together, just because we weren’t expected to make it.”

This year, there were high expectations.

“We followed up with our performance to make it to that level,” Stecher said. “So I think this year is a little bit different. I enjoy it a lot more winning. We didn’t have to go through any rough stretches like we did last year. I think with that, there was added pressure to win. I think at this program, you’re always expected to win.”

Elizabeth Erickson is the sports editor of The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].