When Dalton Bew left his Somers Point home for his senior year of high school, he hoped it would lead to more opportunities in his ice hockey career.
That career took another step forward in the spring when the North American Hockey League's Wichita Falls Wildcats selected him in the third round (53rd overall) of the league's amateur draft. Later this month, Bew will head to Texas to attend the Wildcats' preaseason conditioning camp.
Bew said the Wildcats had kept in contact with him as he played this past season for the Boston Bulldogs of the Atlantic Junior Hockey League.
"They liked the way I played and they asked me, 'Would you like to play for us if we drafted you?' I told them, 'Yeah.' "
The 18-year old Bew, a forward, spent the first part of his senior year at Salem High School in New Hampshire, living with his mother, Gail, in an apartment there and playing for the Bulldogs.
Bew already had played two seasons for the New Jersey Junior Titans of the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League but decided to go north as a senior to hone his skills in the stronger AJHL. His Boston Bulldogs coach was Mike Addesa, whose former players include Adam Oates, who last week was elected into the NHL Hall of Fame.
"It was a good experience there," Bew said of his season with the Bulldogs. "I think it helped develop my speed and I got stronger and quicker and more acclimated to the play of the junior level."
Bew moved back to Somers Point in April, following the Bulldogs' season, and transferred back to Mainland Regional. He graduated with his friends and classmates last month.
High school ice hockey isn't as popular in New Jersey as it is in some other states. N.J. players who are serious about pursuing the sport often look for other outlets in which to play. One route is to play in junior leagues - full-check amateur leagues with players as old as 21.
The NAHL, the league in which Wichita Falls plays, is among the biggest and best junior leagues in the United States, with teams ranging from Jamestown N.Y., to Fairbanks, Ala.
Dustin DePalma coached Bew with the Junior Titans, his New Jersey teams, for two seasons.
"He was genuinely excited" to get drafted by an NAHL team, DePalma, 34, of Howell, said in a phone interview Monday. "We text a little back and forth and word spread pretty quick through his club and his former teammates. He felt he was rewarded for hard work. When somebody notices that, it can give you a boost in confidence and that will help him in his workouts."
DePalma said the NAHL is also known as one of the tougher junior leagues, one in which fighting is allowed and physical play is common.
"Dalton is a really good player who has a lot of good instincts," DePalma said. "He knows how to put the puck in the net, has good hockey sense and good game sense. He's going to have to get a little more physical in that league, but I think he's capable of doing that."
Bew, who played one season for Mainland's club team in 2009-10, said he's confident in his game.
"I think I can do a little bit of everything," Bew said. "I pass. I get a lot of assists and goals. I'd say I'm more of a playmaker, but I can also throw the body."
Bew can play two more seasons of junior hockey before his eligibility runs out. He said his main goal until then will be to wind up with an NCAA Division I program. He said he already has been accepted into notable hockey schools such as Merrimack College, the University of New Hampshire and Maine University.
"He's certainly capable of being an NCAA player," DePalma said. "He's on track and has a great opportunity here in the NAHL. Hopefully, he makes the most of it."
Bew will get his first taste of the NAHL on July 28, when he will head to Wichita Falls for the conditioning camp. The league's season runs from September through March, and the Wildcats will play 58 games.
"I've been to camps before. I know what it's like," Bew said. "Basically you just play scrimmages. They will probably break us into about four teams and you just play your game."
Bew said he's excited to move on to the next level, but that it can't hurt to dream big.
"I really hope that I can get to a D-I school," Bew said. "And maybe get some NHL looks, too. That would be great."
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