WILMINGTON, Mass. — Justin Florek knows a little something about achieving postseason glory with a long-suffering hockey team.
Last season, the 6-foot-4, 194-pound forward helped Northern Michigan reach the CCHA title game and the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999. This week he has been trying to show the Bruins he could be part of the solution to their 30-year-plus Stanley Cup drought at some point down the line.
Florek, the club’s fifth-round pick (135th overall), has been getting some plum assignments during line drills and scrimmages at Bruins development camp at Ristuccia Arena. Today he was even skating on a line centered by ’08 first-round pick Joe Colborne. For a 19-year-old who was once passed over by all 30 teams in the draft, Florek’s first development camp has exceeded expectations.
“It’s everything I thought and better,” he said after today’s double session.
Florek even said he’s excited about the program Bruins strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides has introduced to the prospects this week. That will probably be the last time he says that about Whitesides, who’s know for putting his players through some of the most rigorous workouts on Earth. But Florek thinks he’ll be able add the type of strength, stamina and explosiveness that will help him be a prime player with the Wildcats and a hot prospect for the Bruins.
NMU will need Florek to continue his progression next season, as he’ll be one of the key returnees to a club that fell to Michigan by one goal in the CCHA title game and then lost in the first round of the NCAAs in double overtime to St. Cloud. The disappointing finish, however, did little to ruin the history the Wildcats made.
“It’s a huge deal. We’re a pretty small school in the Upper Peninsula,” said Florek. “No one really knows about us except the people up there.
“We were the talk of the town pretty much. We’re the only Division 1 program on campus.”
Florek improved from 17 to 35 points from his freshman to sophomore years, so there’s no telling how much more he can increase his production. All we know is that the former USNTDP standout, who grew up just half a mile from the NMU rink in Marquette, has checked off every career dream in his head so far, so there should be another solid college season or two, and then a pro career on the horizon.
“The national program in Ann Arbor, I always watched them play juniors. I always wanted to play there. And then I grew up watching the Wildcats, and that was a dream,” he said. “Every step of the way I’m just getting more and more excited. Now I’m here, I just want to keep it going.”