News analysis: going pro with Fazio

Straight out of USPORTS, Queen’s goalie Justin Fazio practices with Predators 

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Justin Fazio backstopped his Gaels to a Queen’s Cup this past spring. Now he’s garnering NHL attention.

From June 25-29, the Sarnia native attended the Nashville Predators’ development camp, taking the ice with first round draft picks under the scrutiny of Predators coaches and scouts.

An NHL development camp consists of a gauntlet of testing and practices, culminating in a scrimmage. They’re a great opportunity to get exposure as well as professional coaching.

Fazio, 22, came to Queen’s via the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League; he left Sarnia as the winningest goalie in their history after five seasons. His run there began attracting the eyes of NHL scouts.

He played in the NHL Prospect Tournament for the Detroit Redwings last year, and he had previously been signed to an Amateur 

Try-out Contract on an emergency basis with the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League (AHL), the farm league for the NHL.

Fazio has been around the edges of professional hockey for some time now, and with his involvement with the Predators and their AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, he seems poised to make the jump following his time at Queen’s.

There used to be a time when to be the best university hockey team in Canada meant being the best hockey team in the world. The league doesn’t receive the same recognition these days.

Many people in scouting circles consider the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), consisting of the junior leagues in the West, Ontario, and Quebec/Atlantic provinces, to be the only league worth monitoring for NHL-calibre talent.

However, Fazio’s recruitment by the Predators, as well as outgoing Queen’s captain Slater Doggett’s signing to the East Coast Hockey League’s Florida Everblades, suggest the powers that be are beginning to appreciate the high level of competition in the OUA and in USPORTS at large.

The only leg up that Canadian universities have traditionally had on the CHL vis-à-vis athlete retention are their ability to offer an education and a high level of competition simultaneously.

Players in the CHL don’t need to expend energy balancing school with hockey, and if they’re a sure-fire bet to make the big leagues, they don’t necessarily need the insurance of a good education.

The United States’ answer to USPORTS, the NCAA, fares much better and often attracts bona fide stars who sign in the NHL immediately upon graduating.

The greatest discrepancy between the two university leagues is the amount invested; 

the NCAA is a financial powerhouse with the ability to provide exposure and top-quality services to their athletes that USPORTS programs simply can’t afford.

It all conspires to give Canadian university hockey a “have-not” distinction that doesn’t reflect the level of talent at all.

The OUA has designated hockey, alongside football and basketball, as a top-priority sport, which means that more funding will be allocated to it, which ideally means that some of the shine that the NCAA enjoys could be coming to the Canadian product.

As things stand, Fazio could serve as a tangible reminder that top-tier talent can develop and flourish within a university environment.

Fazio’s climb through the hockey ranks has been remarkable. Fans of USPORTS hockey are hoping his journey represents the vanguard of a new wave of stars coming through Canadian universities.

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