Riley Sweeney (34) defends the Michigan Tech Huskies goal during an NCAA game against America International.

Riley Sweeney (34) defends the Michigan Tech Huskies goal during an NCAA game against America International.

Late recruit enjoying NCAA

Delta’s Riley Sweeney and former Surrey Eagle playing national college hockey at Michigan Tech.

On and off the ice, Riley Sweeney has had to make a lot of adjustments.

The 19-year-old was preparing for his third season with the B.C. Hockey League’s Surrey Eagles, when his goal of landing an NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) scholarship was bumped up a year.

A six-foot-one, 190 pound defenceman, Sweeney caught the eye of a Michigan Tech Huskies coach, and a few weeks later was in Houghton, Michigan to begin his NCAA career.

“It happened late in the summer,” said Sweeney from Houghton. “(Assistant coach) Bill Muckalt came out to watch me at a camp, and liked what he saw. I was caught off guard, but happy at the same time.

“I was looking to play one more year of junior and get the scholarship, and go to college as a 20-year-old. I wasn’t going to play junior at 20.”

The quick adjustment from Junior A hockey to the NCAA has gone fairly smoothly for Sweeney, who has totaled three assists in his first six games in the Huskies black-and-gold.

“I kind of just jumped right into it. I was able to adjust, although there are still some things I have to work on. But it’s also a lot of fun at the same time,” he said, adding he wasn’t surprised at his points total.

“I’m usually a fairly offensive player, I like to get in on the rush.”

Sweeney, a North Delta resident, began his Junior A career with the Williams Lake Timberwolves but was traded to Surrey 38 games into his first season. He finished the year with four goals and 23 points, upping the totals to 10 goals and 38 points for the Eagles last season.

Despite his strong start at the NCAA level, Sweeney admits there is more work to do and improvements to be made.

“It’s a fast pace (in the NCAA), and the guys are older and more mature. It’s harder to move players, and I have to have quick feet,” he said. “I have to continue to work in the weight room, and get stronger. I’m playing against guys 22 or 23 year-olds, and they have a definite strength advantage.”

A motivation for Sweeney is ice time, which he was promised at the start and intends to keep.

“I didn’t want to be sitting on the bench or in the stands,” he said. “They (coaches) said they would put me into games and it was my ice time to lose. Right now, I’m getting good minutes and playing on special teams.

“I don’t want to waste this opportunity.”

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