Five local Junior A-level players will soon be taking the next step in their hockey careers.
Austin Beaulieu, Austin McIlmurray, Brandon Duhaime, Andrew Peeke and Steven Merl have all signed to play collegiate hockey in Division 1 programs throughout the country this fall.
Junior A teams are considered amateur by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, so players planning to attend American universities often choose this route rather than play in the Canadian Hockey League.
Beaulieu, who currently plays for the Wichita Falls Wildcats in the North American Hockey League (NAHL), is bound for the University of Alabama at Huntsville. McIlmurray, a member of the Coquitlam Express in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), is headed to Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.
“This is the coolest thing for me,” said the 19-year-old Beaulieu, who lives in Coral Springs. Beaulieu, a forward, has 10 goals and 13 assists in 13 games this season for the Wildcats. “It has been my dream to play Division 1 college hockey, and now that dream has become a reality.”
All five players spent their early developmental years with the South Florida Golden Wolves and the Florida Junior Panthers travel organizations.
“I am still best friends with some of the guys,” Beaulieu said. “It is awesome that we are going through the same thing. It is definitely crazy because Florida is not really known for its hockey players, but there are a lot more now coming up and getting to live out their dream. It’s awesome that there are guys from Coral Springs and Parkland getting to do this.”
McIlmurray, also a 19-year-old forward from Coral Springs, has 20 goals and 24 assists for the Express in 37 games this season.
“When I was growing up and playing hockey at Incredible Ice (now the IceDen), it was always my dream to play Division 1 college hockey,” McIlmurray said. “For it to finally happen is surreal.”
McIlmurray still comes back home whenever he can to watch Florida Panthers practices and games. He said you can always learn from the “high end” guys, and the recent success of the Panthers will lead to more kids playing hockey and pursuing their own dreams.
“Now when you go back up north and [talk about] the Florida Panthers, you get genuine interest and people don’t give you a hard time. Hopefully, [the Panthers] can keep it rolling and go deep in the playoffs,” McIlmurray said. “If I am blessed enough to play professional hockey, then so be it, whether it is in North America or overseas.”
The other three local Level A players are in the U.S. Hockey League (USHL).
Duhaime, 18, of Parkland, is a forward who has nine goals and 16 assists for the Chicago Steel in 30 games this season. He plans to attend Brown University. Andrew Peeke, 17, of Parkland, is a defenseman for the Green Bay Gamblers and has three goals and 12 assists in 26 contests. He will go to the University of Notre Dame. Merl, 19, of Coral Springs, is a forward for the Bloomington Thunder and has a goal and three assists in 25 games. He has signed with the University of Michigan.
McIlmurray is still close friends with the other players who signed and who were his travel teammates at a young age.
“For all of us to come from the same area, not known as a hockey hotbed, and have the success we have all had is honestly unbelievable,” McIlmurray said.