Stefanos Lekkas committed to becoming a Catamount this week, but not before he joins the Stampede.
The Elburn-bred goaltender and former Kaneland student will open his collegiate hockey career at Vermont in either 2015-16 or 2016-17, depending on how he evaluates his growth with the Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Stampede, the United States Hockey League club that still holds his rights.
“In the hockey world, it’s pretty normal,” Lekkas said. “Usually, it takes a year or two to get [to college]. I’m just excited that it’s not over with, but that I’ve reached a decision. There’s not as many distractions, almost.”
Lekkas proved to be a sturdy force for the North American Hockey League’s Springfield Jr. Blues last season, compiling a 2.32 goals against average and 92.7 save percentage while making a league-best 1,340 saves. His games (46) and minutes (2,736) ranked third in the NAHL, as he finished 19-21-6.
After the season, the 18-year-old joined the Stampede for the USHL stretch run and playoffs. Making a relief appearance against visiting Omaha in his league debut April 5, he stopped all 12 shots he faced in 31:31 of ice time.
While Lekkas knows that’s a small sample size, he’s also sure it’s not a bad place to start in the top junior league in the nation.
Although he’s uncertain about when his Vermont migration will come – “It’s kind of up to me,” Lekkas said – the move continues a whirlwind that offers at least an endurance test to Lekkas’ 5-foot-11, 170-pound frame.
Shortly after finishing his junior year at Kaneland in 2012-13, he moved downstate and lived with a host family while playing for the Jr. Blues. He graduated high school from Pleasant Plains, a quaint village west of Springfield, in December.
The distance from home didn’t dampen his lifelong friendships.
“I have a really tight group of friends from Kaneland,” Lekkas said. “I’ve been able to stay close to them when I moved out, and really nothing has changed.”
Vermont began scouting Lekkas around midseason, as he later earned nods to the All-NAHL North Division Team as well as the All-NAHL Rookie 2nd Team.
He’s due in Sioux Falls in late August, about a month ahead of the team’s Sept. 27 season opener at Bloomington. It’s all in the name of preparing himself for that eventual trip to Burlington, Vermont. The Catamounts, a six-time NCAA Tournament qualifier, compete in the traditionally daunting Hockey East Conference.
“I feel like that’s one of the best leagues to play hockey in,” Lekkas said. “I really couldn’t be happier with the situation at Vermont.”
No freeze at Fox Valley: Fox Valley Ice Arena manager Paul O’Dacre used the phrase “bursting at the seams” six times during a 20-minute discussion about what’s happening at the rink.
“Come Aug. 1, it’s going to be tough to find an hour of ice before midnight that’s available for rent,” he said. “The building’s been very busy.”
Fall registration for the Cyclones Amateur Hockey Association remains solid, the seasonal men’s leagues are growing and weekend public skates have had rising numbers, too.
Tenant Aurora University’s move to NCAA Division III this season only augments the buzz. And then there’s former U.S. champion pairs skater Rockne Brubaker heading up Fox Valley’s figure skating program.
The arena’s two sheets of ice see plenty of blades even in the summer. The bustle eventually prompted the Northern Illinois club program to move to Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee after spending the past two seasons in Geneva.
The Huskies still will play a handful of games at Fox Valley in 2014-15.
“There’s not a lot of room to maneuver our schedule right now,” O’Dacre said.
• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.