July 28, 2010
Josh Birkholz is stressing that he joined the Everett Silvertips for the right reasons — to increase his chances to turning pro.
To review, the Florida Panthers' 2009 third-round choice announced his arrival Tuesday hours after it was announcing he was leaving the Minnesota Golden Gophers with a suspension looming for violating team rules.
"[H]e said he realizes it will be easy for people to think the suspension is the reason because the news on that and his leaving came out at the same time.
" 'Once our season [at Minnesota] was over I started evaluated the year," Birkholz said, 'so I've been thinking about it. It did not happen right at the time of the whole suspension.' "
"He said the hockey lifestyle of the Everett [Wash.] Silvertips in the Western Hockey League appealed to him. They play 72 regular-season games, seven preseason games and seven-game playoff series.
" 'It's an NHL-type season,' he said, " 'being part of that, getting that experience now willl help me get used to it.' "
" ... 'I did not make this decision on a whim," he said. 'It was a very hard decision for me and my family. I educated myself on Everett and what they believe in.' " (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)
That explanation might gain plausibility given the Gophers have not played up to that school's traditional standard, missing the NCAA tournament in successive season. The 19-year-old Birkholz came the same day another player in his recruiting class, 19-year-old defenceman Nick Leddy left to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks. There was some some speculation the NHL club didn't think Leddy was progressing well enough in Minnesota, which also lost current New York Islanders forward Kyle Okposo after just two seasons back in 2008.
It is human nature to be skeptical that any disciplinary issues that Birkholz had in college hockey are 100 per cent removed from his choice to come to the Canandian Hockey League. Ultimately, people deserve a chance to start with a clean slate and succeed on merit, which is ideally what he'll get in Everett.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.