Luc Salem’s dedication last summer prepared former the Anaheim Jr. Ducks defenseman for a rollercoaster 2020.
His approach was based upon a simple fact: as a 1999 birth year, the 2019-20 season was his last to be eligible to play junior hockey and probably his last shot at achieving his goal of playing Division I college hockey.
“I’ve skated every summer with (Jr. Ducks 18U AAA coach) August Aiken since I played for the Ducks (in 2016-17),” Salem said. “Last summer I tried to push myself as much as I could because I was turning 20 and that was the make-or-break year as a junior.”
Salem’s diligence was rewarded when the skilled blue liner committed to St. Lawrence University of the ECAC on June 4.
That came on the heels of by far his best junior season, when he rang up 36 points in 52 games for Topeka of the North American Hockey League (NAHL). He was the Pilots’ top-scoring defenseman and the fifth-highest scoring D in the NAHL.
Yet as June prepared to take its shift on the calendar he still didn’t have a place to play this fall, and since the NAHL had shut down its season in March he hadn’t had a chance to showcase his progress in the heavily scouted league playoffs, which Topeka had qualified for.
“I had heard from teams throughout the season, but a lot of coaches said the playoffs was where they would be looking at players more closely,” Salem said. “I never talked directly to St. Lawrence, but our head coach in Topeka (Simon Watson) went there, and August knew the assistant coach who was recruiting.”
Salem and Aiken formed a close bond during the former’s one season with the Jr. Ducks.
“I’d moved around a bit (during youth hockey), but the Jr. Ducks were a good spot,” Salem said. “One of the highlights was going to Nationals with the 18s. I hadn’t gone before that.”
Salem’s commitment was the 26th Division I college commit by a Jr. Ducks player in the past six years.
Aiken said Salem’s work ethic and positive outlook were determining factors in his stellar season and his college opportunity.
“Luc’s a really hard worker,” Aiken said. “He overcame a lot of adversity to reach his goal – a college scholarship.
“He played for three teams in two leagues in his first year of junior, and then different teams the past two seasons. A lot of people don’t understand how hard it is to navigate that and keep your focus on your goals.”
Salem took it in stride.
“Everyone’s first year of junior can be tough,” he said. “I’m thankful (the trades) did happen. I got to meet a lot of great people. I learned you can’t take it personally; it’s a business.
“It lit a fire under me.”
What St. Lawrence is getting is a college-ready player whose game should translate well into the evolving modern style.
“Luc is a bit undersized (5-foot-10, 175 pounds) but he skates well, has really good puck skills and hockey sense, and he has a great shot from the blue line,” Aiken said. “He really shined this year after his first two years were a bit of a roller coaster.”
Salem, who like so many of his peers has had to make due with home workouts over the past few months due to restrictions because of Covid-19, is eager to head to upstate New York.
“There were a lot of things I liked about St. Lawrence,” he said. “Obviously, I’ll get a good education. It’s a smaller school (2,500 students), which I was leaning toward. The ECAC is a really good conference. And I think I have a shot at playing right away.
“I’m grateful for all I had to go through to get to this point.”