Eau Claire (WQOW) — Six Eau Claire natives played professional hockey last season, and five of those guys, Jake Dowell, Jake McCabe, Michael Kapla, Alexander Dahl, and Charley Graaskamp, are back in town to give back to the city’s Youth Hockey program.
Those five take part in a meet & greet Wednesday night at the Eau Claire Scheels score at Oakwood Mall, signing autographs and chatting with area hockey fans. All five players are at different stages of their careers, so there’s a variety of plans for next hockey season.
Dowell, who played in the NHL for the Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, and Minnesota Wild, just finished his eleventh pro hockey season by playing for the EHC Black Wings in Austria, and is unsure whether he’ll keep playing.
"I’m trying to decide whether hockey’s still an option or if I want to move on and figure that out," Dowell says, "the season wouldn’t have started until about October so I’ll give myself that much time for a job."
McCabe, who had his third full season with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres cut short when he needed to have thumb and shoulder surgery in February, is looking forward to getting back on the ice.
"From a personal standpoint is getting in really good shape," says McCabe, adding that he’s also expecting improvement from the team after a 25-42-12 season in 2017-18, "we really need to have a better internal competition within our team. The more depth we add is going to be great."
Kapla played in five games with the NHL’s New Jersey Devils at the end of the 2016-17 season, but spent all of 2017-18 with that team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Binghamton Devils.
"I obviously think I can play in the NHL," Kapla says, ‘I think I’m ready, but training camp will kind of be the telltale sign if things don’t work out right away. I think just kind of be patient and hopefully get my shot sometime next year."
Dahl and Graaskamp finished their first pro seasons by playing for East Coast Hockey League rivals Idaho, and Utah, respectively. Both are looking to continue their careers, whether it’s in the ECHL or elsewhere.
"Everything starts to get situated once the NHL and AHL guys start figuring out their plans, starts to trickle down to our league," says Dahl, who scored 3 goals and 10 assists in 42 games, and got to play with older brother Jefferson for the Idaho Steelheads, "around mid-July we start figuring out plans for next year, but the plan is to go back to Boise."
Graaskamp missed much of the ECHL season with an injury, but wound up playing in 25 games, notching four goals and ten assists for the Grizzlies.
"They liked the way I finished and we’ve kind of stayed in touch this summer," says Graaskamp, "nothing happens fast in the offseason so just kind of staying in touch and seeing where the best situation is going to be for me."
All five players will take part in the Eau Claire Youth Hockey golf fundraiser, Friday, at Wild Ridge.