Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Another Pro Thunderbird

It's starting to become clear that a few pro leagues have decided to give U Sports athletes a shot at playing professional sports. The latest player to sign a professional contract is the University of British Columbia's Anthony Bardaro from the men's hockey team. Bardaro will forgo his fifth and final year of eligibility to join HC Asiago of the Alps Hockey League which consists of teams from Italy, Austria, and Slovenia. He'll join a squad that finished as a finalist for the league championship last season, and HC Asiago is getting one heckuva competitor from everything we've witnessed in Canada West Conference hockey play.

Bardaro was a major reason why the Thunderbirds made the playoffs last season in Canada West. He led the team in scoring with 14 goals and 30 points while appearing in all 28 games for the T-Birds, placing him fourth-overall in Canada West scoring. While Calgary eliminated UBC in the opening round of the playoffs, Barbaro added a goal and an assist in the two games the Thunderbirds played against the Calgary Dinos. In 110 U Sports games, Bardaro scored 36 goals and 102 points while adding another 14 points in 14 playoffs games. He was a major part of the T-Birds' offence, and he'll get to try and elevate those skills in Italy next season.

"I'm extremely excited to begin my professional hockey career in Italy," Bardaro told Jeff Sargeant of UBC Sports. "My time at UBC has been amazing and I cannot thank all of my coaches and trainers, the university, and the athletics department enough for everything they have done to help me reach this point in my career. I look forward to being a part of this program's alumni in the future."

The former Prince Albert Raider was an arts student at UBC while representing them on the ice, and joined the team after one-and-a-half seasons with the Prince Albert WHL club. In his final season with the Raiders, he served as an assistant captain while scoring a career-high 25 goals and 57 points. Prior to playing with the Raiders, he had spent three-and-a-half seasons with the Spokane Chiefs. His WHL career saw Bardaro post 90 goals and 200 points in 266 WHL games. He was named as a CWUAA Second Team All-Star this past season after posting CWUAA career highs in goals and points.

"You can't replace a leader like Anthony," assistant coach Kevin Cech told Sargeant. "But as with Derek Dun and Luke Lockhart, it proves the strength of our program here at UBC and that's a big reason why we've got new recruits and returning players who are looking forward to the opportunity left by those guys."

As mentioned by Cech, Bardaro makes three Thunderbirds that have signed pro contracts this off-season as Dun and Lockhart signed with the KHL's Kunlun Red Star in late June, providing evidence that U Sports might be the most overlooked league in North America when it comes to solid prospects. And while no one is saying that teams should abandon their traditional scouting methods, it might be worth it to send a few scouts to U Sports games. When Team Canada takes goaltender Jordon Cooke to the Spengler Cup, there may just be a wealth of talent that the pro men's leagues are ignoring.

I suspect Bardaro will do well in Italy as he and girlfriend Chelsea Kerley head to Mediterranean country. Kerley, a graduate of Washington State University in Spokane's Nutrition and Exercise Physiology program, has worked extensively with hockey talent in Vancouver at Factory Hockey where a number of well-known hockey players work out in the off-season. There have been no announcements about Miss Kerley being hired, but it seems short-sighted if HC Asiago didn't utilize her knowledge and skills for its players as well.

In any case, I wish nothing but the best to one of Canada West's best players in Anthony Bardaro as he embarks on a new adventure in Italy and the Alps Hockey League! He's going to make a name for himself over there!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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