A defenseman out of the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the British Columbia Hockey League, Craig Switzer was selected 275th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Nashville Predators. But before his professional aspirations come true, he, like many Canadian Junior A Hockey League players, is earning an education through hockey.
“I was fortunate I had a few offers from NCAA schools,” the B.C. native recalled recently. “But after my visit to UNH (University of New Hampshire), I knew this was where I wanted to be. The hockey program is well known and it’s a top academic school. I also liked that there was some continuity with the coaching staff.”
Last year, under long-time UNH head coach Richard Umile, Switzer tallied one goal and 13 assists as a freshman. He played in all 41 games. This season, the sophomore defenseman has already seen his role changing on the Wildcats blue line.
“We had a pair of seniors graduate, so now I’m looking forward to playing more,” Switzer explained. “We’ve only played a couple of games this year, but my ice time has already increased. It looks like I’ll be relied upon to contribute more on special teams.”
Victoria Salsa (BCHL) head coach Rylan Ferster is a huge Switzer fan. The two crossed paths in Salmon Arm while Ferster coached the Silverbacks.
“Craig is a huge talent, great offensive skills,” Ferster said. “He rarely panics, great anticipation, and he makes very good decisions. He understands how to deal with forecheckers.
“He’ll be fine on special teams,” Ferster added. “Offensively gifted guys know how to read and react well, so they’re valuable penalty killers too.”
“Craig improved during his second season of junior because he really worked hard in the offseason. He has the tools to play hockey after college. And I think he’ll really benefit from the new NHL rules.”
Switzer, a 6’1, 205-pound product of the Westside Minor Hockey system in British Columbia, hasn’t been to any summer camps in Nashville yet, but says he’s in regular contact with the Predators.
“I see Paul Fenton (Director of Player Personnel) at quite a few games,” Switzer said. “I speak with him afterwards and we talk on the phone. I think they do a great job of communicating.
“They tell me they want to see me playing a little more assertively on defense,” Switzer continued. “It’s not necessarily something new to have to play more defensively because even our coaches [at UNH] want us to focus on defense. It’s just emphasized on more of a regular basis.”
Switzer is joined on the Wildcats blue line by senior Michael Hutchins, a San Jose draft pick, junior Chris Murray, and sophomore Brad Flaishans.
“I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to take on more responsibility this season,” Switzer confirmed. “I certainly want to contribute more offensively than I did last season and I want to take advantage of my opportunities to play on special teams.
“But my main goal is to become more efficient defensively.”
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