Tommy Vannelli (NHL.com)Tommy Vannelli’s decision to give up his scholarship with the University of Minnesota to play for the Medicine Hat Tigers wasn’t an easy one. He tossed and turned on the idea before sacrificing his childhood dream of playing for the Gophers for what he felt was in the best interest of his long-term hockey career.
“It was a very tough decision to make,” says the Minnetonka, MN., native. “I grew up looking up to the Gophers and had some family that played for the team. As a kid, it was a dream of mine to one day put on a Gophers jersey. But it all came down to my development. I had to make the best move for my personal development and I didn't think playing college hockey was my best move.”
It may seem like Vannelli made a quick decision because he was only with the Gophers for roughly two weeks, but he actually thought about going a different development route since the St. Louis Blues selected him in the second round of the 2013 NHL entry draft.
“I went into college kind of unsure,” says the 6-foot-2, 175-pound blueliner. “When the Blues drafted me I started thinking I should just do what’s best for my development. I thought it might be best for me to just focus on hockey. I guess you could say putting all of my eggs in one basket to make sure I'm getting the best opportunity to make it to the next level.”
Vannelli, 18, didn’t commit to the Tigers right after leaving the Gophers, though. He also looked at the idea of playing for the Penticton Vees in the BCHL this season.
“I did look at Penticton because they have a great program out there,” says Vannelli. “It would also have allowed me to play college after that. I just thought Medicine Hat was the best option. The WHL is one of the best development leagues in the world and the NHL is full of players who played in it.”
Even though Vannelli expected to go through a learning curve in the start of his rookie season with the Tigers, his transition from Minnesota’s high school hockey league to the Dub has been silky smooth. He has looked like a star on the Tigers’ back end, tallying three goals and seven points while maintaining a plus-3.
“I’m definitely surprised how smooth my transition has been to the WHL,” says Vannelli, who scored eight goals and 31 points in 25 games with Minnetonka High last year. “Before the start of the season I even went to the coaches and told them they might have to be a little patient with me. I thought it might take me some games to adjust to the league.”
Partially because of Vannelli’s immediate impact, Medicine Hat has gotten off to a great to the season. They sit on top of the Eastern Conference standings with a 7-1-1 record.
“This is a very good team,” says Vannelli. “There are a lot of talented players and they play like a team. Everyone supports each other and works well together. I think we should have a very good season with this group of guys in the room.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen