By Adam Brady
It’s hard at first to get ahold of Nic Kerdiles on the phone, and he apologizes that he’s been busy packing for a flight back to Orange County the next morning. The 19-year-old Kerdiles recently completed a highly successful freshman season at the University of Wisconsin, and he’s getting set to return to his family’s home in Irvine as part of his summer regimen.
For Kerdiles, who was taken by the Ducks 36th in last summer’s NHL Draft, that will include conditioning camp in Anaheim with fellow Ducks prospects during the first week in July. Then a month later he will join the 40 players at the 2013 National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. He’ll be among the players vying for a spot on the U.S. National Junior Team that will play in the 2014 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship Sweden.
For now, Kerdiles (pronounced Ker-DEE-lehs) is cramming bags with summer clothes and likely leaving the heavy stuff in Madison, where the winger played a huge role in a successful season for the Badgers. Wisconsin got off to a slow start, then went on a 21-6-5 stretch when Kerdiles joined lineup 10 games into the campaign. The Badgers won the WCHA tournament to earn a berth in the NCAAs, as Kerdiles finished the season on a 12-game point streak. He went on to have multi-point efforts in all five WCHA playoff games, and was named the WCHA Final Five MVP.
“The way I’ve always looked at things, I see myself rising to the occasion when it’s a bigger situation, the bigger spotlight,” Kerdiles says. “I think I play my best hockey in those big games, and I thought I had a pretty successful playoffs personally and certainly with the team.”
For a kid who spent most of his young life in shorts and flip-flops while growing up in Orange County, one might think the harshness of a Wisconsin winter would be a rough adjustment. But Kerdiles got used to the cold during two years in Ann Arbor, where he was a part of U.S. National Team Development Program and attended Pioneer High School starting at the age of 16.
“During the two years with the national team, there was one winter that was kind of warm, but the other one, it hit hard,” he remembers. “I never expected it to be that cold. But I had a billet family that made sure I had heat in my room, a big comforter and took care of me that way. Obviously it’s something different from Southern California, and it prepared me for Madison because the winters here are pretty long and pretty harsh.”
Aside from that, Kerdiles has loved his time in Madison, where he will return for a promising sophomore season next fall. “Obviously there is a great atmosphere here and it’s definitely a college town,” he says. “The students here are great, the staff, the teachers, and obviously the hockey program and the whole athletic program is great. It’s really fun here and it’s a beautiful campus. The winter is the winter, and you just have to deal with it. I like snow, but you kind of get sick of it after awhile. Other than that, I love this place.”
Kerdiles will likely tune into the NHL Draft on Sunday afternoon, no doubt flashing back to his own draft memories from a year ago when Anaheim took him early in the second round.
“To be honest, it was one of the most nerve-racking experiences I’ve ever been through in my life,” says Kerdiles, who attended the draft in Pittsburgh with his parents, two older sisters and an uncle. “You’re just waiting for your name to be called.”
Unfortunately for Kerdiles, his name wasn’t called that first day at Consol Energy Center, but he was able to shift his focus the following morning when the second round commenced.
“I was hoping to go in that first round, but once I dropped out and I saw Anaheim was picking 36th, I was really excited and thought that would be a great fit for me,” he says. “Obviously being a California boy, a hometown boy, I was hoping to go 36th when I woke up that next morning. They obviously have a great group of guys currently there and some strong prospects coming up, so I knew it would be a fun team to play for in the future.”
As he sat in the stands waiting with bated breath, Kerdiles didn’t even have to hear his name called to know the Ducks had made his dream come true.
“The best part of the way they said it was ‘from Irvine, California…” and once they said that I stood up because I was pretty sure I was the only one there who was from Irvine,” he says with a laugh. “I didn’t even hear my name called at that point. I just stood up and looked at my sisters and gave them a big hug, then my dad and my mom. I made that walk down and I don’t think I could wipe that smile off my face the whole time.”
Keeping his composure as he headed up to the podium to shake hands with the Ducks brass and slip that jersey over his head wasn’t easy. “You want to shout and scream and be so excited, and just because you’re a hockey player doesn’t mean you can’t smile and be happy about something,” Kerdiles says. “So I had a big smile on my face and I just wanted to make sure I didn’t trip down the stairs as I walked down there.”
Backstage, the whirlwind continued: “They have it set up perfectly and they walk you through all the different sections – pictures on your own, pictures with your family, signing things. It’s really hard to take it all in at once like that because everything is moving so fast.”
Not bad for a kid who grew up in an area that – though it has developed considerably the past few years – was hardly a hockey hotbed during Kerdiles formative years. A six-year-old Kerdiles was first introduced to the game when he saw his next-door neighbor playing roller hockey in the driveway.
“One day I was walking home and I asked, ‘Can I join?’” Kerdiles recalls. “I didn’t know what the game was and all the details of it, but I just wanted to try it out. It looked pretty fun, and from there I just picked it up. I joined a club team over there and eventually switched over to ice hockey.”
Kerdiles played several years for LA Selects program in Lakewood, where he once scored scored 121 points, including 65 goals, in 68 games at the midget level. He went on to play in the U.S. National Team Development Program from 2010-12, and led the under-18 team in scoring in 2011-12 while helping them to the International Ice Hockey Federation World Under-18 Championship in the Czech Republic.
While enjoying a flourishing freshman season in Madison, Kerdiles managed to bulk up his 6-foot-2 frame to just over 200 pounds and hopes to get “bigger and stronger” as he ponders a possible move from wing to center. He also managed to keep an eye on the Ducks through a GameCenter Live subscription on his laptop.
“I have a relationship with some of the guys, and it’s kind of cool to watch them on TV and make sure the team is doing well,” Kerdiles says. “It’s fun to watch them and realize that could be my team hopefully in the near future.”
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