Radja Gets Last Shot with New Hampshire
by Dan Verdun/Special to CHN
Off the ice, Mike Radja couldn't tell you much about the NHL. In fact, the New Hampshire senior forward doesn't even consider himself much of a fan.
"I'm probably one of the only guys who doesn't follow hockey," said Radja, the Wildcats' second-leading scorer this season. "The other guys on the team get on me saying, 'You play the game but you don't even like hockey.'"
Regardless of whether he could name the starting goalie for his hometown Chicago Blackhawks or identify Sidney Crosby, Radja has enjoyed success on collegiate ice.
A first-team Hockey East selection this season, Radja has racked up 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists) in 35 games.
"(Radja) has played as well as anybody," said 18th-year UNH head coach Dick Umile.
Radja and his Wildcat teammates earned the No. 1 seed in the West Regional of the NCAA tournament. UNH plays Notre Dame on Friday in Colorado Springs, Colo.
A year ago, UNH also earned a top seed. However, the Wildcats were upset in that first-round game by Miami. Radja scored the lone UNH goal — shorthanded — in that contest.
"That's been with us all year," Radja said. "We're focused on playing one game at a time."
To emphasize the point, the UNH coaching staff hangs the logo of the Wildcats' next opponent in the locker room as each game approaches.
"If we win, they stick a puck over the logo," said Radja. "If we lose, then the logo stays as is."
Radja, a 2003 graduate of Yorkville High School in the far western suburbs of Chicago, first made a name for himself with the Waterloo (Iowa) Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League.
"When we first moved (to Yorkville), there was maybe only one other kid who even played hockey," said Radja's father Tom, a pipe fitter. "Mike's been on skates since he was two. We drove all over the place so he could play."
At Waterloo, Radja first played with UNH teammate and Wildcat leading scorer Matt Fornataro of Calgary.
"We've been together six years now," said Radja.
It's been a productive six years. Both were part of Waterloo's 2004 Clark Cup championship team. Both have also been key parts of UNH's success.
"(My career) has flown by," said Radja. "It seems like just yesterday I was packing my bags and heading off for the first time."
Radja's senior year has featured everything from his first career hat trick to a five-point night at North Dakota to a highly publicized off-ice incident with Hobey Baker candidate T.J. Oshie of the Fighting Sioux. Umile wound up suspending Radja for two games as a result.
Yet, the 6-foot, 190-pound forward has come back strong. He earned National Player of the Month honors for February. Radja has also netted a team-leading six game-winning goals.
"I seemed to get on a streak there for awhile," said Radja. "If someone has to take the shot, I don't mind being the one."
Umile has a track record of not only winning collegiate games, but also of producing pro players. Umile has coached eight Hobey Baker finalists in his 17 years in Durham. He's sent several UNH alumni into the NHL including Ty Conklin, Jason Krog, Bryan Muir and Mark Mowers.
Thus, with the final horn about to sound on his amateur career, what lies ahead for the 23-year-old Radja?
"I've got an advisor handling that," he said. "I'm too old to be drafted (according to NHL rules), so I'll have to sign as a free agent. That's actually okay with me (because) you're not limited (to the team that drafts you). It gives you more (options)."
For now though, Radja's focus is on getting UNH to the Frozen Four in Denver.
"That's our goal right now," he said.
Still, with all his on-ice success, it seems hard to believe Radja knows so little about the NHL, a place he may wind up someday.
"As a kid I knew all the players on all the teams," Radja said. "Now with all the time on ice, lifting weights, watching video ... I just want to go home, relax and take it easy."
True to his word, Radja lists Jim Thome of the Chicago White Sox as his favorite athlete.
"I like the way he plays," Radja said. "He always busts it down the line even on ground outs."
And it's probably no doubt that Thome would enjoy the way Radja plays as well.