Basaraba experiencing whirlwind off-season

Lucas Punkari

Normally, the summer months are usually an easy-going time for most youngsters as they spend time with family and friends back home.
But for 19-year old Fort Frances native Joe Basaraba, his summer away from the campus of the University of Minnesota-Duluth has been anything but rest and relaxation.
“This summer has been a complete whirlwind but it’s been awesome,” Basaraba said.
“To be able to spend the summer knowing that you are on top of the nation is something pretty special, as not many people can enjoy that.
“As well as taking it all in and enjoying it, I’m also working on pushing myself towards next season, because come fall we are going to have everyone gunning for us, so we’ll have to be ready to answer,” Basaraba stressed.
Basaraba’s off-season adventure began immediately following the Bulldogs 3-2 overtime victory over the Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA Frozen Four title game in St. Paul, as the victors returned back to Duluth to celebrate their first-ever national championship with their fans.
“When we pulled in on the team bus into our rink (AMSOIL Arena) there were fans actually waiting there inside, so we all came out onto the ice sheet to celebrate with them,” Basaraba recalled.
“We had banquets and all that sort of thing throughout that week, and pretty much every day there were people coming up to you wherever you went.
“It didn’t matter if it was the grocery store, the gas station or around campus. Everyone just wanted to give their congratulations.
“It was kind of overwhelming at times, but it was all great,” Basaraba smiled.
Once his school year was over at UMD, Basaraba was then in many locales throughout the United States to do his summer work-out programs, which included a visit back to his old stomping grounds at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minnesota.
“I got to spend some time back down there just visiting some old teammates, doing some training, and also playing in a couple games,” Basaraba recalled.
“The hockey world is very a small one, but once you get into it you gain so many relationships and friends, that it’s hard to go around anywhere without seeing someone that you know,” Basaraba stressed.
Although that summer scrimmage at Shattuck’s, along with some games in Fort Frances, have been all about having fun, that will soon change as Basaraba and his friends will become adversaries once the 2011/12 NCAA season kicks into high gear.
“From Shattuck’s there is J.P. LaFontaine (Minnesota State-Mankato), Jason Clark (Wisconsin) and James Polk (Nebraska-Omaha) who will all be moving up in the ranks, plus locally you have Mitch Cain (Bemidji State) and Ryan Faragher (St. Cloud State) who are also coming into the collegiate ranks,” Basaraba said.
“There are a lot of very highly-talented young players that I’ve grown up with that I have been able to stay friends with, and comes this fall I’ll be playing against some of them and that’s going to be really interesting.
“In fact, just the other night I was playing road hockey against Mitch Cain, and I think the rivalry between us has already started,” Basaraba smiled.
The biggest part of Basaraba’s summer on the ice took place in Coral Springs, Florida from July 11-16, as he took part in the Florida Panthers development camp, which marked his first opportunity to play in front of the team that selected him in the third round of last year’s NHL draft.
“Last year the camp was in September which was at the same time that I was enrolling into school at UMD, so I was unable to go down there then,” Basaraba explained.
“So this was my first time to go down south and it was unbelievable, and the camp itself was definitely a great one for me to go to,” Basaraba added.
During the course of the camp, Basaraba and 34 other prospects in the Panthers system took part in three on-ice scrimmages, did some off-ice training and meetings, and also took part in some team building exercises, such as searching the Everglades for alligators on fan boats.
“I think the biggest thing I’m going to take away from that week is what they are stressing with the program, and that is about using your head and your body,” Basaraba noted.
“What that means is just making sure you are both physically and mentally for whatever is thrown at you, and making sure that you prepare for every game the same way and being able to perform at your very best,” Basaraba explained.
Basaraba also had a chance to meet some of the Panthers brass in person for the first time during the course of the week, including general manager Dale Tallon and newly appointed head coach Kevin Dineen.
“It was all about putting a face to the name and what not during the week, and starting to build a strong relationship that can hopefully continue to grow throughout the future,” Basaraba explained.
In fact, it was Dineen that Basaraba spoke quite highly of following his meeting with the man who is entering his first season behind an NHL bench after replacing the recently fired Peter DeBoer.
“He’s very supportive of all of the young kids that are coming up in the Panthers system,” Basaraba said.
“Just like everyone else in the hockey world, he means well and he does what he can to help you in every way.
“I’m really excited to have the chance to get to know him a little more, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to play under him someday,” Basaraba added.
As for his on-ice performance during the camp, Basaraba was pleased with his performances during the games, especially given some of the players that he was matched up against.
“I thought that I did really good and that I fit in really well with the crew there,” Basaraba stressed.
“There were a lot of highly touted draft picks and guys that are already signed with and playing for the Panthers that were there, and I felt that I was able to fit in there just fine and that I was able to contribute my share,” Basaraba added.
After the Panthers camp, Basaraba was finally able to make his way back to Fort Frances for the first time this summer, where he again ran into the congratulatory wishes that he had received when UMD brought the NCAA title back to Duluth.
“Everywhere that I go there is always someone who recognizes me and that wants to congratulate me,” Basaraba said.
“Fort Frances has been unbelievable to me, and the entire town and all of the people have been so great and comforting to me along the way.
“I can’t say enough how proud I am to be from here,” Basaraba stressed.
Following a trip down to Duluth this past weekend to receive his national championship ring and also take part in the UMD alumni golf tournament, Basaraba will be back home for a few more days before making the trip back down to Duluth at the end of August.
“We have to report to the team on (Monday) August 29 to begin our training and then the school year will start some time in early September,” Basaraba, who is entering his sophomore season at UMD and is majoring in business, explained.
“My class load is about the same as last year, and it may in fact be a little bit busier as I’m taking some accounting and business law courses, but I think it should all be good,” he added.
One of the reasons Basaraba feels that he is able to do well in the classroom comes from his experience at Shattuck St. Mary’s before he made the move to UMD last fall.
“With Shattuck being a preparatory school, they give a base level to work off of to work on your time management skills,” Basaraba explained.
“That’s something that is really important to carry over when you go to college, as you have more time to yourself and you really have to manage your time wisely and be strict with yourself.
“In the end, it all worked out really well for me last year, and I didn’t have any problems,” Basaraba added.
As for out on the ice, Basaraba feels that he is ready to make a big step forward in his game for the Bulldogs, after scoring three goals and picking up two assists in 36 games last season.
“I feel quite accustomed to the conference (WCHA) now and I feel more comfortable playing out there,” Basaraba explained.
“I’m looking to take a bigger role on the team this season and step up in the line category a little bit and also help to make a push towards another national title with my team.
“Along with that, I’ll just keeping trying to move up the line by working hard and staying humble,” Basaraba reasoned.
While no team has been able to repeat as national champions since the Denver Pioneers captured the crown in 2004 and 2005, Basaraba feels that his team has a great chance to capture a berth into next year’s Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida and accomplish just that.
“I think we are going to have a real good team once again this fall,” Basaraba, who will start his season on home ice on Sunday, Oct. 2 with an exhibition contest against the Lakehead Thunderwolves, explained.
“We have two great goalies (senior Kenny Reiter and sophomore Aaron Crandall) coming back this fall, along with a good core of guys from last year’s team as well as some highly touted freshmen that are coming into the squad.
“That will be a good backbone for us to build off of, and there will be a few players like myself that will have to step up and carry an even bigger role this season.
“But I’m looking forward to it,” Basaraba smiled.