SHERIDAN — Last week, Justin Schwartzmiller received a call from the Bismarck Bobcats — a team in the North American Hockey League — offering a chance to earn a roster spot with the team.
Schwartzmiller has since packed his bags and moved to Bismarck, North Dakota, to start training with the new team. Schwartzmiller said he attended an optional team practice Monday morning and already sees the higher level of play required at the NAHL level. The Sheridan Hawks are a Tier III junior hockey team and the Bobcats are a Tier II junior team.
Players from Tier III hockey and primarily recruited by either the NAHL or NCAA Division III schools. The Bobcats had seven players commit to a NCAA Division I school after last season.
Schwartzmiller said it is the goal of every player in Tier III hockey to move up to a higher level, and this is his shot to earn a roster spot with the Bobcats.
“I was pretty excited; it is a pretty big deal to be able to come up and skate with these guys,” Schwartzmiller said. “Give myself a chance to see where I match up against this level of hockey.”
The Bobcats lead the Central Division and is the top team in the NAHL, Schwartzmiller said. The top skaters for the team are Division I talent and he believes he can work his way into one of the lower lines and squeeze his way into a spot on the roster.
Sheridan NA3HL Hawks head coach Andy Scheib said this is a great opportunity for Schwartzmiller. Even though it means the Hawks lose their leading scorer, it is the goal of Tier III hockey to advance players to the next level.
With Schwartzmiller advancing to the higher level, it will not only give him more exposure but it helps give the Hawks exposure as well. The exposure helps with signing players and in recruiting because it shows the Hawks provide players with an opportunity to advance to a higher level.
Schwartzmiller scored 32 goals and recorded 31 assists in the 20 games he played in as a Hawk.
“It is a good opportunity for him,” Scheib said. “He has worked hard; he has earned it. He has been leading our team in scoring and off the ice. He is a great kid.”
Following his time in junior league hockey, Schwartzmiller hopes to earn a spot on a Division III school’s roster, hopefully, a school in his home state of Wisconsin. Schwartzmiller said while it is everyone’s dream to play at the Division I level, he is more of a realist and his plan is to earn a spot on a top team at the Division III level.
Very few players are recruited directly from high school into college. Players will join junior teams across the nation in multiple leagues to develop their game. Schwartzmiller said there is a big jump between high school and college hockey. As a player advances, the pace of play will quicken and the amount of space a defender allows will shrink.
Scheib said Schwartzmiller is the first Hawks to receive the call but expects there will be more players moving on as the season progresses.