2006 prospects: Q&A with Andreas Nodl

By Kevin Wey

Sioux Falls Stampede forward Andreas Nodl scored only seven goals and nine assists in 44 games in an injury-shortened 2004-05 USHL season. There was no chance Nodl was going to be selected in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, his first year of draft eligibility, after his disappointing rookie season in the USHL. Even a spot on Sioux Falls’ first line looked light years away.

What a difference a year makes.

Having bulked up to 6’1, 196 pounds and enjoying hockey once again, thanks largely to first-year Sioux Falls head coach Kevin Hartzell, Nodl is now considered one of the top prospects in the USHL. The 19-year-old Nodl scored 29 goals and 30 assists in 58 games for Sioux Falls in 2005-06, leading the Stampede in scoring, placing him fifth in USHL scoring, and earning him a place on the All-USHL First Team. Nodl was also named the MVP of the USHL Prospects/All-Star Game after scoring a goal and an assist in Team West’s win 5-3 win over Team East. On top of MVP honors, Nodl also took home the Fastest Skater award with a lap of 14.68 seconds at the USHL Skills Competition. The National Hockey League took notice of Nodl by inviting him to the NHL Combine, one of seven USHL players so invited.

Although the 2004-05 season might have hinted otherwise, Nodl was no stranger to scoring prior to the 2005-06 season. Playing for the Wiener EV (Vienna) organization, Nodl scored 11 goals and 10 assists in 15 games for Vienna’s J20 team in 2003-04, second in points per game behind Rafael Rotter. The 17-year-old Nodl also played semi-pro senior hockey with Vienna’s Nationalliga team, scoring 15 goals and 22 assists in 25 games.

Nodl also has a history of excellence with the Austrian junior national team. As a 16-year-old, Nodl scored two goals and two assists at the 2003 Division I Group B U18 Championships, second only to Rotter. When Austria made the jump to the elite pool for the 2004 World Junior Championships in Finand, the first time Austria had played in the elite pool since 1981, the 16-year-old Nodl was there for the education to come. Team Austria was thoroughly trounced in exhibition and lost their first game of the tournament 8-0 to Team USA. A 2-2 tie against Ukraine the only point they gained in the WJC’s.

A couple months after turning 17, Nodl scored two goals and three assists for Team Austria at the 2004 Division I Group A U18 Championships, second again in team scoring to the 5’8, 166-pound Rotter, who played for the Guelph Storm of the OHL in 2005-06. Relegated to the 2005 Division I Group A World Junior Championships, Nodl scored two goals and two assists in five games, second in scoring to Rotter. The end of Nodl’s 2004-05 season came at the 2005 DI Group A U18 Championships, and the 18-year-old scored only one goal and one assist in four games, a shell of his previous self after losing his confidence. But, the down times wouldn’t last, and Nodl’s decision to come to North America paid off in 2005-06.

Nodl came to North America on the advice of fellow Austrian and former Stampede forward Thomas Vanek, and Vanek again would prove important when the younger Austrian made his decision to commit to college. When St. Cloud State showed interest in Nodl, Vanek helped convince his younger countryman to play for coach Bob Motzko, Vanek’s head coach in Sioux Falls for two years and his assistant coach at the University of Minnesota for three. St. Cloud State tabbed Motzko to be their head coach after the 2004-05 season, and Vanek’s familiarity and trust of his old coach proved to be to the Huskies advantage in recruiting Nodl, who committed to St. Cloud State in early October after getting off to a dynamite start in his second season of USHL action. The USHL named Nodl the league’s first Offensive Player of the Week on Sept. 26 after scoring a hat trick and an assist in his first game of the season, a 6-3 win over the Lincoln Stars Sept. 24.

Nodl may be committed to St. Cloud State in 2006-07 and beyond, but he’s still chasing the 2006 Clark Cup with Sioux Falls. One of the USHL’s top scorers during the regular season, little has changed in the playoffs. After 11 games, Nodl had a team-leading five goals and eight assists, thanks in part to a hat trick against the Des Moines Buccaneers in Game 2 of the Clark Cup Finals, evening the series at 1-1.

Nodl’s combination of speed, hands, and size makes him a certainty to be selected in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Nodl’s speed is unquestioned, but he does not rely upon beating defenseman wide in order to score. Nodl has the offensive awareness to slow the play down when necessary to create plays and also has the stickhandling and agility to deke defensemen into mistakes. When it comes time to shoot the puck, Nodl is a sniper with an incredibly hard shot, whichever shot he uses, and has a release to match. Defensively, Nodl uses his speed and size to finish checks intelligently, whether it’s on the forecheck or backcheck.

Hockey’s Future recently caught up to Nodl and discussed his dramatic turnaround in 2005-06, his frustrating 2004-05 season, his history with Team Austria, hockey in Austria, and his future with St. Cloud State and perhaps further to the NHL.

HF: You’ve been named the USHL All-First Team, you played in the USHL All-Star Game, you led your team in scoring, what allowed you to have such a breakout year this year?

AN: I think my linemates did a great job. My coach. The changing of the rules, they changed the rules a lot, more like a stickhandling game, not too physical, you can make plays. Coach has given me confidence to make my plays and I get a lot more ice time. So, I think that has helped me out a lot.

HF: How are things different in 2005-06 with Coach Hartzell than they were last year?

AN: I think he’s more like a teacher. He can really teach you stuff. He tells you when you play bad, he tells you how to play good, you learn so much from coach over the course of the year. It’s just different, because we’re still in the learning process, you’ve got to try for college and for pro, maybe, a few years down the road. He’s just the perfect guy for this job.

HF: What are some of the things that you’ve been working on your last two years in the USHL?

AN: Probably tough play, play the body all of the time, just get the puck in the net, crash the net hard, just try to make some plays and make the players around me better.

HF: Was last year frustrating for you?

AN: Oh yeah, it was real tough. I only played like 44 games, I was injured. I had some family issues, everything just came down. I didn’t know the language too well. So, it was just a tough year.

HF: You’ve been invited to the NHL Combine, how much does that mean to you?

AN: Obviously it’s a great honor. Only like the 150 best players in the whole world, so it’s just a big honor and I’m just so proud of that. I think it means a lot to me because last year I didn’t really think about anything about the NHL and all the scouts coming up to me and talking to me about that stuff. So, that’s really overwhelming.

HF: How important has coming to North America and playing in the USHL been in your development?

AN: A lot. The style of hockey here is just so different than the European style, more physical hockey and it’s just much faster. Everything is just totally different. I’m so glad I made the step.

HF: You’ve played juniors in Austria, how did that hockey compare to the USHL?

AN: I think World Juniors was better, obviously, because we played against the U.S., we played against Sweden, against Canada. But, in my league back home where I played two years ago, it was not even close to that level. This league is way better than back home.

HF: You also played senior hockey in Austria in the Nationalliga, how does that compare to the USHL and how does it compare to the Austrian Bundesliga?

AN: There’s a huge difference. The Bundesliga is professional, you can earn so much money. It’s a really good level. We actually have a couple NHL players on every team. It’s a really good level of hockey, actually. You can’t compare it to here. Here, it’s like the four lines are pretty much even, everybody can play hockey. In Austria, one line with all the foreign players, they just dominate the league.

HF: Is the Nationalliga considered semi-professional?

AN: Yeah, kind of. Everybody has a job and gets extra money.

HF: You’ve also played for the Austrian national team, at the junior level at least, what does that mean to you and what are some of your favorite memories with the Austrian team?

AN: Actually, I didn’t have too many good memories with the Austrian team, unfortunately. But, it’s always an honor when you play for your country and can represent it.

HF: You were able to play in the elite pool of the World Junior Championships in 2004, how big of a jump was that?

AN: Unreal. The first two games we got crushed by Finland like 13-0, by the Czechs like 11-1. In the third game we did much better, we lost to Canada only 6-1, but it was just such a huge difference. They were just so unreal. It was a lot of fun, but the losing all the time was just not that cool at all. But, you learn so much playing in the World Juniors.

HF: You scored a fair amount your first two times at the U18’s, then last time you only had a goal and an assist, were there any particular reasons for the drop in production?

AN: I think it was just probably my thoughts with the season I had last year, it was just terrible and I had no confidence. I didn’t know what was going on. I just didn’t have any fun playing hockey. I didn’t know what was going on, so probably that was the main reason.

HF: You played with Rafael Rotter with Wiener EV in juniors and the Nationalliga, and also Team Austria, what makes Rotter so good?

AN: He’s a small and skilled forward and he makes players better. He gives you the puck a lot and he’s a good finisher too. So, he’s probably one of the best stickhandlers I know, actually.

HF: Were you two able to keep in touch with him being in Guelph?

AN: We kept in touch a little bit, early in the season, but now we’re both pretty busy with playoffs and school, so we don’t talk a lot, actually, right now.

HF: You’ve committed to St. Cloud State and I’ve read that you’ve credited Thomas Vanek a bit with that decision. Since the two of your aren’t exactly the same age, and he’s from Graz, how did you meet Vanek and what was some of the information he gave you that helped you make that decision?

AN: I met him first at the World Juniors in 2004, and then he talked me into coming over to play juniors and play in the USHL because I wanted to play college hockey when I was older. So, he just kind of talked to Sioux Falls all of the time, because he’s a really good alumni, so he told coach about me and they invited me for a tryout camp and now I’m here. So, it’s been nice.

HF: How important has Vanek been in the development of Austrian hockey and do you sometimes feel that you’re following in his footsteps?

AN: I don’t know about following in his footsteps. He’s just unreal, he’s now playing in the NHL and he’s one of the rookie leaders. So, it’s pretty hard to follow that. But, he plays a huge part in coming over here, for everything, for Austrian hockey, for like everything. He’s like the idol for nearly every Austrian hockey player. He gives us confidence that we can actually accomplish something coming over here. Maybe NHL, if not, getting more mature and learning a lot. It’s a great experience coming over.

HF: What were some of the other things that Vanek said that convinced you to go to St. Cloud State and play for Coach Motzko?

AN: I’ve just talked to a lot of guys and they’re all like “Motzko’s a great coach.” The whole St. Cloud community is just unreal and the hockey program is awesome. So, it just made it pretty easy for me to commit there.

HF: You’re projected to go in the NHL Draft this year, did that seem like an impossible dream last year?

AN: Oh yeah. I didn’t even think about the NHL Draft after a season like that. I was so far behind, I was so far away from ever getting drafting. So, it’s kind of like, I think it’s just overwhelming. You can be proud of that, and I just happy, actually.

HF: How much would it mean for you to be drafted, especially after last year?

AN: That would mean a lot. It would mean that I tried it one more year, that I didn’t give up after a tough year. That’d be one of my dreams come true actually.

HF: How was it that you started playing hockey and at what age?

AN: I started playing when I was like 4 or 5, I can’t remember. I was a big soccer fan, but my mom was always a huge hockey fan. So, she’s like, “Just try out hockey once.” I just loved it from the beginning on.

HF: Growing up in Austria, did you dream of playing in the NHL, or did you dream of playing in the DEL like Gerhard Unterluggauer, or did you dream of playing in the Austrian Bundesliga?

AN: I always was dreaming of playing in the Austrian league when I was young. Then I was dreaming of playing maybe German hockey or maybe Swedish hockey. Then, obviously, when you get older and older you know that the NHL is the best hockey league in the world and it’s everybody’s dream to play there. I don’t know, it’s just a dream, but, you know, when you work hard, and maybe sometimes dreams come true.

HF: Who were your favorite players growing up?

AN: Favorite player when I was growing up was Wayne Gretzky, obviously. But now it’s Jarome Iginla.

HF: What would you say the future holds for Andreas Nodl?

AN: I don’t know, just have a good freshman year at St. Cloud and just play really good at St. Cloud. We have a great hockey program and may make the NCAA Frozen Four. I want to accomplish something with the team. Maybe then…you never know what can happen to you. I just want to have some good years in St. Cloud and then maybe go pro.

HF: Do you plan on playing four years or would you take the chance to jump into pros early if you had it?

AN: Take the chance, sure. But if you have a bad year, just play four years and get a great education. So, there’s no rush.

HF: Do you already know what your major is going to be?

AN: Undecided. Maybe business, I don’t know.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.