Lasch Key Kid
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
You've all heard the stories before ... the kid who gets cut from a team as a teenager, goes on to stardom.
Ryan Lasch has a ways to go before professional stardom, but he's already turning heads in the NCAA.
"Whatever you put at him, he processes it and gets it," said St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko of the freshman who is leading the Huskies in goal scoring with nine.
The 5-foot-9 Lasch, recently named the national rookie of the month for November, is an unlikely success story. His father, an amateur speed skater, had Lasch skating when he was three years old. But this was in California. Lasch stuck with ice hockey, but unlike some of the other prominent D-I players from California in recent years, he never really thought he would make something out of it.
And then, when he was 16, he was cut from his midget AAA team. It all could have ended right there.
But in a fluke, someone he worked with at a local rink knew someone coaching a Jr. A team in Pembroke, Ontario, in the Central Junior League.
In fact, one day — already, probably — Lasch can look back at getting cut by his midget team as the best thing that ever happened to him. He should send them thank you cards.
Despite having grown up skating, at times, with a group that comprises the recent influx of California natives to the WCHA — Robbie Earl, Gabe Gauthier and Brett Sterling, most notably — Lasch did not even fathom following in their footsteps. Not only didn't he fathom it, it wasn't even something he particularly interested in pursuing.
"I didn't even know anything about (college hockey)," Lasch said. "That was totally out of my mind. I just wanted to play hockey somewhere. ... I didn't think I could do it at all. There wasn't even a chance — a California kid trying to come up there and do something like that."
Even when Lasch went to Pembroke, he did so just because he had nowhere else to play. The thought of playing major Division I college hockey didn't even cross his mind.
But lo and behold, Lasch kept getting better and better and better. By the middle of his second year at Pembroke, it was clear, there was something to his game. He started receiving D-I attention.
"That's when I thought there was a possibility I can play beyond junior," Lasch said. "That drove me even more at that point.
"I think it was just hard work. I was determined to get there."
He caught the eye of St. Cloud State and Northeastern. When he visited St. Cloud, he knew that's where he wanted to be, especially since it was a closer trip for his parents to make games. But the Huskies coaching staff had no idea what they were really getting. They committed to him, kept his eye on him, and watched him score over 60 goals in his third season in Pembroke.
"By the end of last year we knew we were onto something pretty good," Motzko said. "It's fun to watch. Anyone putting up that kind of points in any league, it has to be good."
Yet they still didn't know what they had, figuring Lasch, lacking size, speed and a strong pedigree, would take time to adjust to this level.
"He's not the quickest cat in town. We thought maybe it would take him a year or two to adjust, but we'd see offensive ability," Motzko said. "But within the first few practices, you saw something pretty special. One thing you don't realize ... he competes his heart out every night. You never know what's under the hood.
"He skates better than you think, but you find out he's a whole lot tougher than anyone thought."
And yet there was still more to learn. After a good start, Motzko figured that Lasch would need to adjust to playing in front of a big crowd at North Dakota, on a smaller ice sheet. Then, against the Gophers, who have been rolling, in front of another big crowd.
"(But) he has five points on the weekend and we get two ties. And he keeps doing it," Motzko said. "It doesn't matter. We see it every day in practice. He only has one mission in his life and that's the little black thing. He's oblivious to who he's playing."
"Fans love their hockey here. It gets me going," Lasch said. "(And) North Dakota was an unreal experience. The atmosphere, so many people watching one game. It was the most people I've ever played in front of."
Against Minnesota, the Huskies tied both games, keeping the streaks of both teams alive. Saturday's game was a thriller at home.
"That's the greatest game I've ever been a part of," Lasch said.
"It's the same game, you just go out there and work hard. You don't try to go and do something different. You just go out there and play."
One thing he has adjusted to is defense. The hard work was there, but he didn't always know where to go.
"I came from a league known for high-scoring games. I learned how to play defense. I'm still working on it. There's always room for improvement," Lasch said. "It's all positioning. I was busting back but I wasn't in the right place, knowing what guy to pick up."
Just like his "fortune" of getting cut from his junior team, getting by-passed in the draft last year (and next year) could turn out to the best thing for Lasch as well. Keep playing the way he is, and one day, he could be one of those expensive recently-graduated free-agent commodities.
"I came a long way since I've been cut," Lasch said. "I came a long way as a player, and as a person. I think it's helped me out here that I've matured that much."