Lincoln Stars forward Ryan Dzingel almost didn't play in the USHL in 2009-10. Not because he wasn't good enough (he was one of Lincoln's most impressive players in spot appearances with the Stars during the first half of the season), but because he didn't see the need at first. With a scholarship from Ohio State already in hand, Dzingel was initially content to play out 2009-10 as one of the top offensive players in Tier 1 midget AAA hockey with Team Illinois and to continue attending a parochial prep school back home in suburban Chicago. But, with a little USHL hockey under his belt during the first three months of the season, he reconsidered, joined the Stars full-time for the second half of the season, got a head start on the next step of his career, and established himself as one of the USHL's hidden gems for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. From his sporadic weekend fill-ins during the first half of the season to his full-time duty during the second half of the season, Dzingel impressed throughout with his strong skating, his slick stick skills, his impressive offensive awareness, and his burgeoning two-way game. In fact, when all is considered, in terms of overall potential, Dzingel may trail only Des Moines' Connor Brickley amongst American-born USHL prospects in their first year of draft eligibility, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that he eventually emerges as the best.
McKeen's correspondent Kevin Wey was able to sit down with Ryan Dzingel prior to the end of the 2009-10 season. Dzingel discussed his decision to move to the USHL earlier than planned, his development with the Stars, his commitment to Ohio State, his youth hockey in Chicago, his chances for the 2010 Draft, his fondness for one of his hometown team's enemies in his youth, and the NHLer he currently looks up to the most today (a Blackhawk who already looks well on his way to a Hall of Fame career).
McKeen's: To start, what is the proper pronunciation of your last name?
McKeen's: So they're pronouncing it right here.
McKeen's: That's always good when the home team pronounces your name right. After last night, you have 8 goals and 10 assists in your last 18 games, so you're averaging about a point per game with the Stars since late January. What would you say have been the keys to your level of personal success lately?
Dzingel: Just probably the guys on the team. The guys I play with are great. Shine's good. We always know what each other is thinking. McGroarty always harps on working hard, and that's what I've been doing lately. Skill can only bring you so far, and he's taught me that.
McKeen's: Dominik's definitely a hard-working kid, at least on the ice, although I'm sure he is off the ice, too. You didn't start the season with the team. Well, you kind of did at the Fall Classic, I remember seeing you there. But, the first half of the season, you played with TI (Team Illinois). At what point did you make the decision to come here in the second half and what were the reasons?
Dzingel: I didn't want to leave my family in the first half and I didn't think it was necessary, because I was going to Ohio State in two years, and usually you come to the USHL to get your offer for college. But, then I decided to finish out the year here, because I wanted to help the team out here and I thought I would get a lot better.
McKeen's: And it looks like it's working both ways so far. Are there any, perhaps I shouldn't say regrets, but, looking back, do you wish you'd played here the whole year?
Dzingel: Uhh, yeah, I guess I would wish I'd played here the whole year. But, it's worked out well. So, no regrets.
McKeen's: I was talking a little bit with Nick Fouts yesterday, and he mentioned you were attending a private school back home, too.
Dzingel: Yeah. I went to a private Christian school back home in Wheaton, so?
McKeen's: In what areas of your game do you feel have improved the most in 2009-10, particularly here with Lincoln?
Dzingel: Probably my physical game and my work effic (misspeaks), effort, ethic (corrects himself). (Smiles) It's definitely been a huge thing.
McKeen's: What are you doing more now than you used to?
Dzingel: I used to (pauses)? one shift I'd have a great one and the next shift would be off. But coach harps on, every shift, give it all you've got.
McKeen's: Similarly, what are the areas of your game that you feel you need to improve on the most moving forward to help take your game to even the next level.
Dzingel: Improving (pauses to think)? I definitely need to start working a little bit harder, and I definitely need to shoot more (smiles). I don't shoot enough. Coach always yells at me to shoot more. I pass a lot.
McKeen's: On the flipside, what would you say are the strengths of your game, and for those who haven't seen you play, the style that you play?
Dzingel: I'm a skilled forward, so I move the puck well, and I see the ice pretty well. So, those are probably my best attributes.
McKeen's: The points lately seem to reflect that. As you mentioned, you committed to Ohio State last year. With colleges, when did different programs start recruiting you?
Dzingel: When I played U-16, so I was 15 or 16. That's when I started getting offers.
McKeen's: The addendum to that, what other programs were in the running for you toward the end, if I might ask, and what made you decide on Ohio State?
Dzingel: Northern Michigan, Colorado College, and UNH (New Hampshire) were the three ones I looked at, and then Ohio State. But, Ohio State's coaching staff and their facilities were just amazing. So, I chose there.
McKeen's: All you needed was Alaska and you'd have had the continent covered for places considered. With Ohio State, how often do they stay in touch with you and what have they been saying lately?
Dzingel: Probably once or twice a week. The head coach recently got let go, or he's not coming back next year. I'm not sure what's going to happen there, but hopefully the assistant coach, Steve Brent, is still there, because he's a great guy and good coach.
[Note: Mark Osiecki was named the new head coach of Ohio State's men's ice hockey team, and he retained Brent as an assistant.]
McKeen's: I assume he was a big part of the recruiting process.
Dzingel: Yes, definitely.
McKeen's: As the assistants usually are. You're still slated to go to Ohio State in 2011?
McKeen's: Are you a junior in high school now or a senior?
Dzingel: I'm a senior.
McKeen's: Sometimes I've asked that question and they tell me, "I'm only a junior this year." So it's like, "Oh, well that that solves it." I assume that you're coming back here.
Dzingel: Mmm, hmm.
McKeen's: Not to put the cart ahead of the horse, but what are your expectations for 2010-11?
Dzingel: We'd better start winning. I definitely think we're going to have a great team next year. The guys we have coming back, there's no reason why we can't win. We should be able to make a run, I think.
McKeen's: Any expectations for yourself?
Dzingel: I always want to be a top scorer in the league and lead the team. I need to be a leader next year, because most of the older guys are going to be gone.
McKeen's: Going back to the beginning of your hockey career, when did you first start playing and how did you get that start?
Dzingel: When I was five years old, my dad's best friend got me into hockey. My dad still regrets it today (smiles). He's a baseball guy. He wishes I was going down the baseball route.
McKeen's: I guess we'll never know. Did you play baseball, too, I suppose?
Dzingel: I'm still playing right now. So, I'll go back. The two days when I get home, I have a baseball game right away.
McKeen's: Wow. What level of baseball do you play at there?
Dzingel: Just high school right now.
McKeen's: I know you played for TI, and I've seen in your stats that you played for the Mission before that, but I don't know your entire career, so to speak. So, for what different organizations did you skate for at the different age groups?
Dzingel: I started at the Blues. It's Double-A, it's in Chicago. Then I went to Mission, TI, Mission, TI.
McKeen's: (Chuckles) What made you jump back and forth?
Dzingel: (Chuckles) I guess, the first year I went to the Mission, they were trying to set up a dream team with all the great younger kids, so I went there, and then I stayed there for two years. Then, I went over to TI, just because I think the coaching staff (pauses)? I had a better opportunity there to play.
McKeen's: Who was on the dream team with you there?
Dzingel:T.J. Tynan on Des Moines. Noah Nelson, who's going to be in the USHL next year, he was on the team. Chris Joyaux, he's going to go to Ohio State with me in 2011, he was on that team. So, a lot of studs were on that team.
McKeen's: I recall Chris playing with Tri-City a little bit.
Dzingel: I guess he could have played there, but he stayed back to play at TI with the family.
McKeen's: It's your draft year. I don't know how much you were on the radar before, but I think you've put yourself on the radar now. To your knowledge, have NHL teams expressed interest in you and what are your thoughts on the draft?
Dzingel: My coach told me that they're looking at me and they're talking about me, but I haven't really talked to any. Hopefully I'll get taken.
McKeen's: They don't always talk directly to you. Have you done any of the questionnaires and stuff?
Dzingel: No, I haven't done any yet.
McKeen's: It's not uncommon for players of your caliber here to have representation. Since you're on the college track, it'd be a family advisor. So, do you have an advisor and, if I might ask, whom?
Dzingel: Yeah, I do have a family advisor. Ahhh (voicing his frustration). It's definitely going to flip my mind now. I will know by the end of this interview. My dad just talked to him the other day. He's a great guy.
McKeen's: If all else fails, I'll check in with you after tonight's game.
Dzingel: Yeah, there you go.
McKeen's: Does he stay in contact with you at all?
Dzingel: Yeah, I talk to him. He texted me the other day about Ohio State, because I was getting worried about that (which triggers his memory)? Eddie Ward! There you go.
McKeen's: Ed Ward. Yeah, I've come across a few guys that he represents. What else has he been saying to you lately, other than Ohio State stuff?
Dzingel: Just to stay confident, keep playing hard. Just keep working. The scouts want to see you work. The skill will only take me so far. He just wants me to keep working and not worry about other stuff around.
McKeen's: If I were a director of amateur scouting for an NHL team, or perhaps a regional scout giving my report to my director, what are some reasons I should consider drafting Ryan Dzingel in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft?
Dzingel: I work hard and I have skill to back it up. I don't just go out there and finesse all the time. Even though I can do that, I know I have to back it up with work ethic and try to be a leader out here.
McKeen's: Lastly, who were some of your favorite players growing up and why and who are some players today who you feel you're similar to or that you'd like to be similar to?
Dzingel: Steve Yzerman is my one favorite back in the day when I was younger. I was from Chicago, so everyone hated me?
Dzingel: ? like the Red Wings. But, I went to his house actually. Christian Thomas, his dad played with the Blackhawks, and he took me to his house when I was 11. So, that was the highlight (pauses)? I don't know. I stepped in his shoes and everything in house. It was amazing.
McKeen's: That would be Steve Thomas's son?
Dzingel: Yeah, Steve Thomas's son. He (Steve) played on the Blackhawks for awhile.
McKeen's: And then players today who you'd?
Dzingel: ? like to be like?
McKeen's: Or model yourself after a bit.
Dzingel: I like Jonathan Toews on the Blackhawks. He works hard, but he's got skill to back up, and I'd like to be anywhere near him someday.
McKeen's: Even if you take some fraction of Jonathan Toews' ability, you're still playing pro hockey.
McKeen's: And I'd definitely give you a pass on the whole Steve Yzerman/Blackhawks thing. There was a time with the Blackhawks, for much of your youth, where it was a little lean.