GOING CAMPING: Division III Alumni Receive Invites to NHL Training Camps

Compiled by D3hockey.com Staff

Norwich University's William Pelletier celebrates his empty net goal that capped off an NCAA title run in March. He impressed then, and will look to do so again with Chicago. 
Photo: Jeff Melnik, D3photography.com

While their importance in the world of professional hockey has always been quite high, NHL Training Camps are due to hold a greater significance to fans, players, and coaches at the NCAA Division III level this fall than in some years past. Four different NHL clubs have elected to extend invitations to Division III alumni, including two members of the Class of 2017, for their upcoming training camps. Former Potsdam player Chris Lee has been invited to try out for the Los Angeles Kings, former St. Scholastica defenseman Brenden Kotyk was brought in by the New York Rangers, while class of 2017 forwards Stephen Collins of Geneseo and William Pelletier of Norwich were invited by the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks, respectively. Camps began as early as yesterday around the league, with the proceedings starting as late as Friday. 

The opportunity is a rare one for Division III players. While a fair number have gotten the call to skate at prospect and development camps over the years alongside highly regarded professional, junior, and collegiate players, only a select handful have gone to main training camps with roster spots on the line, and even fewer have reached the pinnacle of professional hockey by suiting up for an NHL regular season game. 

Lee, a former forward and defenseman at Potsdam, has had quite an extended journey to arrive at his NHL opportunity. The longevity of his path to the top makes his invitation to camp an uncommon one, as NHL teams are not generally inclined to dish out first time camp invitations to players at age 36. However, when you've won multiple championships and top individual awards while playing with former NHL stars in Russia's top league, the KHL, and have appeared in the 2017 IIHF World Championships with Team Canada, someone is bound to seek your services eventually. That team is the Los Angeles Kings, where Lee began camp yesterday on a Professional Tryout Contract. 

Following an illustrious four year college career in the North Country of New York that included 115 points in 110 career games and 2004 AHCA All-American honors, Lee went on to make an immediate impact in North America's affiliated minor leagues as a premier offensive defenseman. He became a multi-year mainstay in the defensive pairings for the Florida Everblades from the time of his pro debut, going on to record 21 goals and 68 assists while playing his entire 157 game ECHL career in Estero, Florida. During his third professional season in 2006-07, the American Hockey League came calling. Lee appeared briefly with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Albany Devils that year, and would end up playing 32 games with the Calgary Flames affiliate in Omaha. Lee put up 17 points from the back end in that run, laying the foundation for him to play an additional three years in the AHL with the Iowa Stars, Bridgeport Sound Tigers, and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He saved the best for last across his AHL resume, posting his top regular season point mark of 39 total in 2009-10 with the Penguins to finalize a career total of 26 goals, 89 assists, and 115 points in 249 career games. 

Following the 2009-10 season, Lee took his game overseas and skyrocketed to international stardom on the big sheet. He spent the following two seasons in the German Elite League with Kolner Haie and Adler Mannheim. With Adler Mannheim in 2011-12, Lee was named an alternate captain and posted the best offensive season among league defensemen with 45 points while also setting the league pace in assists. He found an even higher gear in the KHL, where he was a three-time league assist champion, a four time all-star, and a two time Gagarin cup champion with Metallurg Magnitogorsk. This past season, he led all KHL skaters, including former NHL superstars Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, in assists with 51 while also nabbing 14 goals, which topped the league leaderboard amongst defensemen. He stands with 179 career KHL points in 227 games played, and is the highest scoring points-per-game defenseman with multiple full years of service in league history. He also is a reigning silver medalist with Team Canada after a two assist performance at the 2017 IIHF World Championships. 

While Lee will enter camp as a tested 36 year old veteran looking to make a mark on the one league that has eluded him professionally, two others are being afforded their own rare opportunity. Pelletier and Collins go to training camp in the same year they completed their eligibility at a Division III institution after storied college careers that saw them lead their squads to at least one frozen four in their careers. Both players also share a common thread of having some opportunity to prove themselves in a professional environment. 

Stephen Collins has done enough to warrant a second look in Washington.
Geneseo Athletics Photo

After winning the national championship in March in his last game for Norwich University, Pelletier leapt into an even bigger spotlight professionally. After the title win, he headed straight to the American Hockey League's Rockford Icehogs, where the 24 year old contributed three goals and four assists in eight games. That was impressive enough to get Pelletier retained, as he is currently due back to Rockford on an AHL contract if he doesn't latch on with the Chicago Blackhawks. At Norwich, Pelletier put together a heavy release, sharp vision, and top end speed to pile up 126 career collegiate points, including an eye popping 18 points in just 7 games in a vastly shortened junior season. He was a two-time All-American in his sophomore and senior years. 

Collins elected to not pursue immediate professional playing time after his season at Geneseo wrapped up in the SUNYAC semifinals, but made the wait well worth it to make a first impression when he was invited to Washington Capitals Development Camp this summer. He impressed enough at that opportunity to warrant a second look from Capitals brass. The look from the top comes with good reason after Collins lit up the Division III ranks in his final two years with back-to-back campaigns of 45 points or more. He also brings with him a track record of team success with two National Semifinal appearances in his four year career. He is the Geneseo program's only two-time first team All-American, a two-time SUNYAC Player of the Year, and was the 2017 runner up to Hamilton goaltender Evan Buitenhuis for the Sid Watson National Player of the Year award. He finished his career with the Knights with 59 goals and 78 career assists, and ranked in the top 5 nationally in points per game in the last two seasons. 

Kotyk played one season at St. Scholastica,and posted a 19 point campaign under Mark Wick before transferring to nearby Division I power Minnesota-Duluth. His third and final season as a Bulldog was his best offensive one, as he accumulated three goals and ten assists in 41 games played. Kotyk also won the NCHC title with the Bulldogs in 2017 before advancing to the Division I National Championship game. 

Stay tuned to d3hockey.com for further updates on transactions, additional training camp players, and preseason game action. 



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