Defenseman Scott Savage played for one of California’s most storied youth programs. Today, he plays for one of college hockey’s most storied programs.
Savage’s playing career began not as a defenseman, but as a forward with the then-Yorba Linda Blackhawks (now Orange County Hockey Club) under the guidance of Joe Cook. He played one season with the Blackhawks before moving on to play for Southern California hockey factory, the LA Selects (now part of the Los Angeles Junior Kings organization).
Savage began his nearly five-year stint with the Selects in 2006 at the Pee Wee AA level and converted to defense. It was during this time that Savage would develop into one of California’s premier defensemen at the Midget Major level.
He began his Selects career playing for former St. Cloud State defenseman Sandy Gasseau, who is widely considered one of California’s top teachers of the game. Gasseau was one of three Selects coaches who were instrumental in helping to mold him into the defenseman that he has become today.
“Sandy made some huge contributions to my game and development,” said Savage. “He really helped me with the offensive side of my game. He taught me how to effectively join the rush and become a two-way player.”
As Savage made his way up to the 16 AAA level, his final level with the LA Selects, he also had the opportunity to play for Bill Comrie and Louis Pacella. Like Gasseau, Comrie and Pacella were also instrumental in Savage’s development.
“Bill really taught me about the small details in what it takes to really be a good defenseman,” explained Savage. “He taught me little things like sticks on pucks and stuff like that. It’s such a small detail but it’s something that you need to be good at throughout your career to be successful. As you move up (to the next levels) those (skills) become more and more important.
“Louis really helped me grow both on and off the ice,” said Savage. “He pushed me as hard as he could in practice every day and that helped me get better and better.”
After leaving the LA Selects in 2011, Savage played two seasons with the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, MI before moving on to Chestnut Hill to play for legendary head coach Jerry York at Boston College.
In addition to their ability to successfully develop and move players to the next levels, Savage sees other similarities between his former Selects coaches and his current coach at Boston College.
“I think it’s obvious how much Coach York loves his players,” explained Savage. “He’s invested so much of his time and has really dedicated himself to making his players better. I’d say that it’s one area where they’re all similar. Another is their passion for the game and the things that they do for their players. They’re always doing extra things to help make their players better and to help them achieve their goals of playing at the next level. To all of them it’s about the team first and how each player can make the team better. I don’t think there really is much of a difference between them in that regard.”
Savage, who is NHL Draft-eligible this year, has had his share of time in the spotlight. And while the attention is hard to avoid, he doesn’t allow it to affect his immediate goals.
“I actually try and not pay attention to it,” admitted Savage of the upcoming NHL Draft. “I really don’t pay much attention to that ‘outside” stuff. To me, I just want to help my team and just focus on that. I just push aside all the other stuff and focus on what I need to do here at BC every day.”
Savage has seen the steady rise and growth of hockey in the Golden State, particularly in the last ten years. He notes that not only has that presented more playing opportunities for California players, but it has also brought more exposure to the players thanks in part to the growing number of Californians making their way to the NHL ranks.
“I would certainly say that California is becoming a hockey hot bed,” said Savage. “Ten years ago, it was like “oh, you play hockey? Why are you playing hockey? Shouldn’t you be in the water surfing?” Now you’re seeing California winning national championships at all levels. In addition, you’re also seeing a lot more California kids playing at the collegiate level, too. It’s probably triple the number that was playing ten years ago. So it’s really huge and great to see how all of these programs are starting to develop better players, even at the high school level. The number of high school teams playing hockey now is unbelievable. I think it’s becoming more of a recognized sport and it’s becoming more common now to see California guys playing in college hockey or Canadian (Major) junior hockey. Guys like Beau Bennett (PIT) and Emerson Etem (ANA) that played here in California as kids and are now in the NHL. That’s been huge for the state in helping to grow the sport, as well.”
So what kind of advice would Savage give young Californians wanting to reach the level that he is at?
“My advice to them would be to just have fun playing hockey and get better every day,” advised Savage. “You’ve got to have that love for the game and the willingness to get better. I would also tell them that they should really stay involved, too, because we have a lot of great programs in California now and the people around you will help you to get to where you want to be.”
And Scott Savage should know since he was a part of all that growth.
Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF