For the first player chosen in the 2012 USHL Draft, the biggest difficulty that Tony Calderone has had while playing with the Sioux Falls Stampede this season is getting to loose pucks.
“If there’s a loose puck on the sideboards it’s a battle, it’s a race, to every single puck,” he says. “It’s just something that is a lot faster.”
Calderone grew up in Trenton, MI and played for the Victory Honda Triple A club. His coach from that club, Brian Burke, stressed that Calderone’s ability in the difficult areas would separate him from the rest of the players in that league.
“He always told me go hard and just get in the corners,” says Calderone of his former coach. “I’m just kind of a hard worker so he’s prepared me well for this league.”
His current coach, Cary Eades, believes that Calderone was well prepared to play in the USHL and has already seen his first-year player score nine goals in 23 games.
“He’s a proven goal scorer,” says the former University of North Dakota and Warroad High School coach. “Goal scorers in this day and age are hard to find. He’s got a real nose for the net, he’s got a hard shot and he goes to the tough areas to score goals.”
When Eades took over for longtime Stampede head coach Kevin Hartzell in May, the former USHL General Manager of the Year had a difficult decision to make: who should he take with the No. 1 overall pick?
“I didn’t have a lot of time from when I got the job to having to make the decisions,” he admits. “I just hit it off wit [Calderone] real quick and we were glad we did.”
Calderone says that he is happy with his production so far, but believes he can do more.
“I always think I can do better than I am,” he says. “I’ve had some open chances, I think I’ve had three open nets that I’ve fumbled this year, there’s just no excuse for it.”
“This league is so much bigger, faster, stronger and you have to get your shots off quicker,” says Eades. “You ‘ve got to move to open holes a little bit quicker so this is pretty much the same thing that most first-year players have to adjust to.”
Last season he had 38 goals and 65 points in 40 games for Victory Honda, meaning offensive play has often been his strength. To be an impact player at the junior level, however, Calderone feels he must improve defensively.
“I’ve grown as a player and learned to play more defensively, which is big in this league,” he says. “I’ve played a lot more defense than I’m used to and it’s worked out.”
Traditionally he has found a home in front of the net, shielding the goaltender’s vision and tapping in rebounds.
“I take a lot of stuff in front of the nets,” he says. “It’s all worth it if I can bury it.”
While his play around the net has been superb, he’s spent a lot of time this year working on his decision-making in the open ice.
“I’m still learning about puck decisions,” he says. “That’s just a huge thing in this league, what you do with the puck, and I’m starting to get a lot better.”
Calderone started the year on the fourth line, but has since moved to the third. He says that he is unlikely to crack the top line this season, just because his team is so talented—the Stampede sat atop their division at week’s end.
“He’s going to get an opportunity to get ice time as we move along,” says Eades. “How soon he becomes an upper echelon player in this league? Time will tell.
“He does a lot of things well and he’s a real competitor. It’s going to be sooner or later.”
Follow Tom Schreier on Twitter via @tschreier3