Flames welcome hot prospect

By Laurence Heinen

Jordan Leopold has a tough task ahead of him to build upon last year’s extremely successful hockey season.

As well as leading his University of Minnesota Golden Gophers to a National Collegiate Athletic Association title on their home turf, Leopold hauled in more hardware including the coveted Hobey Baker Award, which is handed out annually to the top U.S. collegiate player.

“I don’t know if I can really top that,” said the highly-touted Calgary Flames prospect who hails from Golden Valley, Minn. “Last year was a big year for myself and it was a big year for Minnesota and everybody that supports our Golden Gopher hockey team. Really, that’s over now and you can look to the future and hope good things happen.”

After his whirlwind weekend last April in which the Gophers won the Frozen Four tournament and he laid his hands on the Hobey, the excitement didn’t die down for Leopold, who had an impressive college campgaign, counting 20 goals to go with his 28 assists.

He went on to play for the United States at the World Championships in Europe before returning home to visit the White House. He then visited Calgary for a spring conditioning camp and signed a two-year deal for more than $1.8 million US in salary and bonuses before returning to Minnesota to get married to his long-time girlfriend Jamie.

“It feels pretty good,” said the 22-year-old defenseman about heading into Calgary’s training camp this weekend with a signed contract. “We got the deal done really early and really quick. It went really smooth. It’s one of those things that makes you feel good inside because I got married this summer and a lot of bills are coming. Now, there’s a chance to pay them instead of taking out loans. There’s a little bit of sweat off my back so it feels really good.”

Now, the 6-foot, 210-pound blueliner just has to worry about cracking the Flames lineup for his contract to kick in. Since he signed a two-way deal, he would receive considerably less playing for Calgary’s American Hockey League affiliate in New Brunswick, the St. John Flames.

“We’ve got a young organization that’s building for the future. I’m hoping to just be a part of that and maybe make something special happen in the near future.”

Starting Sept. 15 at the Flames training camp in Banff, Leopold will begin his quest to make the jump from the college game to the National Hockey League.

“There’s a few adjustments,” he said. “There’s tag-up icing, the red line, you’ve got more skilled, craftier players and it’s a little bit quicker. You’ve just got to try and keep up with your training and do your best to prepare yourself.”

For a brief moment last summer, Leopold considered an offer to attend the Flames 2001 training camp, which would have meant he’d lose his final year of college eligibility. It’s a decision that he now doesn’t regret in the least.

“I decided to go back to college and it was the right thing to do,” Leopold said. “I had a great season that we capped off with something special that hasn’t happened in 23 years in Minnesota.

“It was a big thing. College hockey back in the States is big, especially in Minnesota, that’s kind of our pride and joy there. When you’ve got fan support, you’ve got press, you’ve got media and you’ve got people who care, it really makes a difference. So, it’s kind of like playing professional in a way.”

When asked what he’s looking forward to the most about his first professional game, Leopold said he’s just trying to take everything in stride.

“There’s been so many things that have happened to me this past summer,” he said. “I’ve just got to try and soak it in and remember as much as I can because half the stuff went by so fast that I can’t even recall it.”