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Thursday, November 27, 2014

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Junior star set to play U.S. college hockey

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Matt Silcoff

Skating for the Vaughan Vipers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL), Matt Silcoff received a lot of interest from NCAA colleges, including firm offers from two Division III schools.

In the end, he opted for Middlebury Collegiate in Vermont, a prestigious liberal arts institution that counts Ari Fleisher, former White House press secretary, among its alumni. Silcoff will join the Panthers in August as a freshman left winger.

When it came down to it, Silcoff had to choose between Middlebury and another school with “Saint” in its name. Going to a school with that kind of religious connection just didn’t seem right for a guy who graduated from the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, he said.

On top of that, he was blown away by the atmosphere at a Panthers game he attended. Packing the Panthers’ home arena were 3,000 rabid fans cheering the team on – a remarkable showing for a school that has only 2,500 students.

When you add that to Middlebury’s reputation for academic excellence and the chance to foster business contacts, it seemed like a good fit, Silcoff said.

Silcoff, who took the year off after high school to focus on hockey and getting in shape, is now completing the paperwork necessary for the next leg of his hockey journey. Then he plans to hit the gym over the summer to prepare for next season with the Panthers.

Getting the offer from Middlebury, which plays in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, came only after “a lot of hard work,” Silcoff said. When other guys his age were out partying, he was in the gym working out. When others were socializing, he was working on his game.

The result, he said, is “the opportunity to go to a school like Middlebury. It’s incredible.”

Although nothing is yet set in stone, Silcoff plans to study economics at the liberal arts college.

And play hockey and more hockey.

He’s already known as a good skater who likes to dish the puck. He admits to getting as much satisfaction, maybe more, from setting up a teammate than scoring himself.

A six-foot one, 180-pounder, he wants to join the Panthers 10 pounds heavier and hopes to graduate in four years weighing 200 pounds. That will give him his best shot at getting noticed by NHL scouts, but he recognizes that few players from Division III ever play in the big league.

A more realistic goal, he said, is to spend some time playing professionally in Europe, like other Division III players.

This past season, Silcoff finished second in scoring for the Vipers. He scored 24 goals and 27 assists in 49 games, including some played with the Lakeshore Patriots.

 He was traded by the Patriots (previously known as the Upper Canada Patriots) at the beginning of the season. The year before, he scored 47 points and was invited to Team Canada East’s selection camp.

Going back even further, he was named MVP of the GTHL Midget All-Star Game when he played for Vaughan Kings.

In 2011, he played in the Hockey 4Life (Chai Lifeline Tournament) and was named MVP. This past year, he played in the Joel Schwartz Memorial Hockey Tournament, in aid of the Reena Foundation, again being named MVP.

In 2009 he played for the TanenbaumCHAT Tigers. He and linemate David Garbuz led the team to the York Region Athletic Association (YRAA) championship.

Garbuz influenced his hockey career in aother direction – east. As in Metulla, Israel.

Both played in the 2009 World Jewish Cup of Hockey, albeit on different teams.

While Garbuz played for Israel, Silcoff was on the Under-18 Team Canada “White” team coached by former NHLer Steve Thomas.

Team Canada White won the tournament, and Silcoff led all skaters in scoring.

He considers it his best summer ever.

“I’d never been to Israel before,”

he said. “The hockey and the culture were incredible.”

After the hockey, Silcoff spent more than a week touring.

“It was just a great time,” he added.

In 2010 he tried out for and made the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL, but that didn’t last long. He played in the OJHL instead, and he advises guys playing minor midget and midget hockey to consider something other than major junior hockey.

Playing in the OHL was enticing, he said, but you could get hurt, and not get as far as you hope.

“I wanted to get an education. Use hockey as a vehicle to get a good education,” he suggests.

It’s advice he plans on taking himself.

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