By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com
When you score more than 27 percent of your team’s total goals for a season, you’re going to attract some attention. And boy, could Niko Schoner score goals? He popped in 48 of them to rank third league-wide for the USPHL Premier.
He put the first-year Nashville Spartans right on the map quickly and had them contending right to the end for an inaugural season playoff berth that just barely eluded them in the end. For Schoner, his college hockey future was sealed towards the end of the season when he was able to make his commitment to the SUNY-Canton Roos, an independent NCAA Division III program that just finished its 11th season.
“Conversations started before the December Tampa Showcase and continued regularly throughout the season,” said Schoner, an ‘02 from Bloomingdale, Ill., who came into the Premier with prior USPHL experience in the NCDC. “My offensive skills combined with my work ethic will help the Roos continue to be a highly competitive team.”
SUNY-Canton is coached by Alex Boak, who took over the program in 2016 and, after two formative years, has put the Roos into double digits for wins for four years straight. Located north of the Adirondacks, the Roos have played a lot of great, competitive games over the years against the neighboring SUNY-Potsdam Bears.
“Academically, I was interested in the many options of courses and majors they offer along with their class sizes. I’m not completely decided yet but I’m interested in Business and Sports Management,” said Schoner, who finished with 69 points in 36 games, giving him a Southeast Division-best 1.92 points per game. “Talking to the hockey coaches and players, I was immediately impressed with the hockey program and culture they have created.
“I wasn’t able to visit the campus in person but I did a virtual tour. I decided to make it official after talking with current players and learning about the hockey program first hand,” he added. “Everyone had such great things to say about the school, hockey program and coaching staff.”
For a veteran junior player, signing on with a first-year program carried its risks, but also its rewards – he was able to jump in and help build a culture from scratch.
“The Spartans organization is a top0-notch program, from the owners, coaches, staff and rink. Their dedication to the player is very rare in junior hockey today. They helped me not only with hockey, but with navigating the college process,” Schoner added. “The Spartans were a great place for me to work on my game and get ready for the next level. I’m very grateful to the entire organization for the way they treated me and helped me grow as a player and as a person.”
The most he had scored at any junior or Midget level before this season was 37 points, when he was a U18 AAA player in the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs organization. He blew that out of the water as he posted 30 goals and 44 points before Christmas even arrived. He chalks that success up also to the Spartans’ approach to player development.
“The Spartans do a great job of development. As a player, I’m always looking to develop and get better. So having coaches that not only understand the game but know how to communicate and show me ways to improve is key,” he said. “They are constantly working with each player’s strengths and weaknesses to make us the best players we can be, both on and off the ice.”
And dropping the Spartans into the grinding wheel of the Southeast Division, traditionally one of the toughest divisions with the best college commitment rates in the USPHL Premier, couldn’t have been a better test for the future ‘Roo.
“The USPHL is a well run league with opportunities for player growth. Many organizations like the Spartans have teams in Elite, Premier and others also have teams in the NCDC, allowing for players to develop at the right spot and also be able to move up when ready,” he said.
He knows that college hockey will be fast and also physical, though the Southeast Division teams are definitely no shrinking violets. Even still, gym time is always in the plans this spring and summer.
“Strength and conditioning – I’m hitting the gym hard, working on bulking up, so I’m ready to contribute to the Roos on Day 1,” he said.
The USPHL congratulates Niko Schoner, his family, the Nashville Spartans and SUNY-Canton for his commitment.