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Broomfield native Stafford decides on NCAA D-III Wilkes for college hockey destination

 

Easton Stafford has experienced the USPHL in two very competitive areas, first playing in the New England Division in 2022-23 before transferring over to the Southeast Division and the Charlotte Rush this year.

He has been to Nationals (just recently in March) and has also hit the 40-point mark in two straight seasons, showing he can contribute no matter where he is. 

That certainly comes as no surprise to Wilkes University, to which Stafford will move on to now that his junior career has come to an end. Stafford committed to Wilkes in late February before going on an extended postseason run that saw Charlotte reach the quarterfinals of the National Championships in Utica, N.Y. 

With one exciting chapter of his life now behind him, he can’t wait to wear “the big W” in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., starting this fall. 

“I first started talking to Coach [Tyler Hynes] at Wilkes in early January of this year about a possible commitment when a few of my teammates and I drove up to the school to do a visit. We were met by Coach Hynes on campus and had a tour of the school and hockey facilities,” said Stafford. “After the tour, I was able to have a one-on-one conversation with Coach Hynes about his interest in me as a player and I actually didn’t know that he had seen me play until that conversation.”

Over 83 regular season games, Stafford posted 40 goals and 51 assists for 91 points. He added seven points in nine career playoff games. With the Rush this year, he registered 48 points in 39 games. 

“He told me that he liked me as a guy who plays the game the right way in all three zones, and that I can always find a way to put the puck in the net,” said Stafford. “I have always taken pride in my defensive game as a center and my work ethic on both sides of the puck, so I was extremely happy to hear that Coach Hynes valued those aspects of my game. 

“I was also told that he liked my confidence when the puck is on my stick, and my hunger to get it back when it’s not.”

“On the hockey side, I was first drawn to Wilkes for their constant success in a short time as a program. Wilkes is always ranked highly in Division 3 and they are only improving each year, which is one of the biggest things I was looking for in a team,” said Stafford. “To add to it, I believe I can play an important role on the team throughout my career at Wilkes, and that is obviously a great opportunity for me.

“What interested me the most at first about Wilkes from an academic standpoint is the quality of education they offer in a large variety of majors. I am still not completely set on a major for school, though I have a good idea of the options I’m most interested in. Therefore, I was looking for a school that can offer a large variety of majors and a path to success after school in all of them, and Wilkes fit that perfectly,” said Stafford. 

He will be going to a whole new community, leaving his hometown Broomfield, Colo., for the trip a good 2,000 miles east to Wilkes. He was able to see the campus firsthand and can’t wait to be a part of the Wilkes culture when he arrives. 

“I was extremely happy with the campus at Wilkes when I visited. The campus and school atmosphere felt like a place I could be comfortable for four years and a place I would be happy to call home. The school buildings and classrooms were great and the layout of the campus felt like it was its own area, not just spread out through a town, which is something I was looking for,” he said. 

“I decided to make the commitment official after a couple of things happened. One, I talked at length with my parents about school itself and made sure Wilkes offered academic options and a path that worked for me,” he added. “And two, I had great talks with Coach Hynes about the team and why he wanted me to be a part of it. We saw eye to eye on the values that a team needs to be successful and all the things that I have focused on for most of my life to make me a better hockey player, Coach Hynes valued just as much.”

He has mentioned above that he has not already picked a major, but he does know that he may want to pursue sports medicine. 

“I am interested in the human body and how it can be healed or trained to help sports performance. Something similar to a physical therapist is a career I would be interested in,” he said. “The other path I am considering is in criminal psychology. The other side of the human body I am interested in is psychology and finding out what makes different people do what they do. And criminal psychology is the most interesting version of that to me.”

What A Rush

Stafford is going to always have fond memories of being part of the Charlotte Rush, especially as he may be playing at Wilkes with former Rush players, such as Luke Dobles. 

“I love the Charlotte Rush as an organization. They preach to you from the first day at training camp that this organization has success every year because it is run like no other. It is not an exaggeration,” said Stafford. “I have always been driven to be the best hockey player I am. Giving my all in every practice, workout, or game. I always look for opportunities for extra work, working out most every day.

“The Charlotte Rush was a perfect place for someone like that. The Rush is all about family. You do things the right way, you do whatever you can to be the best teammate you can, and the on-ice success will come,” Stafford added. “There is a standard of winning that is unwavering, and I believe that is what helps us have success. We are happy every time we win, but not surprised, and most definitely not satisfied. I decided to sign here this year because of their proven track record as a team that is always in contention for a national title, and as an organization that moves on players to high level college teams.”

Being part of two longtime USPHL organizations including the Rush and the South Shore Kings, he was able to see a lot of different types of hockey, both in New England and the Southeast. The USPHL’s unparalleled Showcase Series has taken him to a lot of additional locales to play in front of college scouts. 

“The USPHL has been a great experience for me the last two years. It allowed me to showcase myself in front of a large audience of college and Tier 2 scouts throughout both seasons. We travel to showcases with tons of teams, and we get a large variety of competition that benefits me learning how to play against different types of opponents,” said Stafford. “Playing specifically in the Southeast Division this year has been very fun for me because I believe it’s the hardest division to play in, which in turn leads to more opportunities to impress college coaches.”

He’s of course now most excited about the opportunity to impress Coach Hynes and the Wilkes staff, as he wants to make sure he can get right into the Wilkes lineup as a regular and be a contributor. 

“I am going to work on lots of aspects of my game this summer. Knowing exactly where I am going to be next year before the season is over allows me the opportunity to set a plan for my training this summer that I haven’t had before. I will continue to be in the gym almost everyday, trying to build more strength and power to be ready to play against the veterans in the NCAA next year,” Stafford said. “On top of that I am going to focus on developing my ability to play the game at full speed and make plays under higher and higher levels of pressure. I am always going to work on my skating and skill set, but the biggest challenge I need to face is being able to read plays and make decisions at a faster pace, then making sure I can also execute those plays at that pace as well.”

Photo/Joshua Boyd/USPHLPremier.com

— Joshua Boyd/USPHLPremier.com

(April 2, 2024)

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