Monday, April 29, 2013

A great day to be Beaver

In my mind, every day is a great day to be a Beaver, but in the last 24 hours, we've had the opportunity to work on two announcements that have made me, a BSU grad and fan of all things BSU Athletics, especially proud to be associated with Bemidji State athletics--Matt Read was named to Hockey Canada's World Championship roster and Brian Leonhardt signed a free agent contract with the NFL's Okland Raiders.

In athletic media relations, our staff has the opportunity to work with student-athletes on a daily basis. We get to know them, watch them compete, crunch numbers, tout achievements, nominate for weekly and end-of-the-year awards and publicize them every step of the way, but at a NCAA Division II school, with Division I hockey programs, publicizing former Beavers that have extended their playing careers beyond the collegiate ranks is not the norm. That is what makes today so special.

Matt Read was a great player at BSU and left holding several Division I-era records. He seemed destined to do great things from the moment he stepped on campus. Since he signed with the Philadelphia Flyer organization in the spring of 2011 he's been living what must feel like a bit of dream and Sunday's announcement was just the latest. He scored 13 points (7g-6a) for the Flyers' AHL affiliate Adirondack in just 11 games to complete his 2010-11 season--not a bad first impression. He made the NHL squad out of training camp, netted 47 points (24g-23a) as a rookie helping Philadelphia to the Stanley Cup's Eastern Conference finals, all while being named among those considered for the Calder Memorial Trophy, given out each year to the NHL's Rookie of the Year. Did I mention he played in the Winter Classic, was selected to participate in the All-Star Game Skills Challenge and was a part of HBO's 24/7?  Now Read has a chance to represent his home country of Canada in the World Championships and he was selected to the team by Canadian icon and Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman. 

There aren't too many sure things in sport, but I am tempted to think, being associated with Hockey Canada as it enters an international competition of any kind is about as sure as it gets. Could the next chapter of this dream be Matt Read wearing a World Championship medal around his neck?

The World Championships take place May 3-19 in Helsinki, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden. Team Canada opens play May 4 versus Denmark in Stockholm, just an hour from where Read made his home playing for Södertälje Sportklubb of Allsvenskan in the Swedish second league, during the NHL lockout. There is no doubt he won Swedish fans over during his time there, just as he did while he was in Bemidji, so he should have a good fan base already in place.

Leonhardt's path to the professional ranks was a bit different. Red shirted on the gridiron for his true freshman season, the Blaine, Minn. native tried his hand at track and field and worked his way into a a role as a two-sport athlete at BSU. By the time he was finished, he was an All-Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference pick thrower on the track and tight end on the field. He owns the hammer throw record at BSU (177-06), qualified for the NCAA Track and Field Championships and earned All-America accolades as a football player.

After performing well, earning the Offensive MVP award, at the Texas vs. The Nation all-star game following his collegiate career, there began to be some serious buzz around Leonhardt and the possibility of catching on with a NFL club becoming a reality. 

I watched the NFL Draft this weekend with anticipation. I was on the edge of my seat waiting to hear "Brian Leonhardt, tight end from Bemidji State University" recited on ESPN's coverage of the later rounds, but it never happened and disappointment set in. But as the weekend rolled on, I started seeing some social media activity associating Leonhard with Oakland. A few phone calls confirmed that today. Now he has a chance to live out his childhood dream of playig in the NFL. Who knows, maybe next time the "Da Raidahs" come to Minnesota to face the Vikings, No. 88 will be flanking the offensive line wearing the Black and Silver.

Leonhardt will fly to the Bay Area May 11-13 to participate in the Raiders' rookie minicamp.

Today's announcements are as big as they come and for both of them to happen on the same day made for some hectic times in the office.  Either way, it's a great day to be a Beaver and one that we won't soon forget. 

Jump on Beaver Nation and enjoy the ride.

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