It’s not unusual to do a little last-minute shopping before Christmas.
But Peter Hand of Rotterdam wasn’t looking for presents on Thursday. He was shopping for a college.
Hand, 17, who is in his second season playing for the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League, made an official visit to Union College as he resumes a quest that he thought was already completed two years ago.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound defenseman had made a verbal commitment to play at Ohio State two years ago after playing in a junior tournament at the Value Center Arena, the home of the Buckeyes.
But former Ohio State coach John Markell didn’t have his contract renewed after the Buckeyes finished 15-18-6 last year, and Mark Osiecki was named head coach in April.
Hand and the new staff at Ohio State didn’t see eye-to-eye when it came to Hand’s future with the program.
“I talked to them in the fall, and they said there were some gray areas in my game, and they were re-evaluating me,” said Hand on Thursday after his visit at Union. “I ended up decommitting.”
But that also put Hand is an awkward situation, as most teams have already locked up their recruits for the 2011-12 season.
“Right now, I don’t have a lot of options,” he said. “When I committed, I really didn’t know a lot about the school. I just kind of committed to get in over with. I liked the school, but I didn’t know a lot about it.”
Hand, his mother, Demitra, and his younger brother Zach have been living in Emhurst, Ill., since August 2009 so Hand can play for the Steel. They returned home for Christmas to spend a few days with Hand’s father, Peter J. Hand, a general contractor in Rotterdam.
Peter Hand is developing a solid reputation as a stay-at-home
defenseman who plays with an edge to his game. Last year, even though he was the youngest player on the Chicago Roster, he appeared in 49 games for the Steel, and scored one goal and had four assists. He ended up sitting out six games because of various suspensions, and led the team in penalty minutes with 120.
This year, he’s played in all 26 games, collecting three assists and 60 penalty minutes.
“I’ve been good this year,” he said with a smile when asked about his penalty minutes and lack of suspensions. “I think I learned a lot last year, and I think I’ve added some things to my game. I think I move the puck better, and I’m more efficient in that way.”
Hand has also had to adjust to a new coach this season. Former Colgate defenseman Steve Poapst coached the Steel last year, but he left to become an assistant coach with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. Jon Waibel, who played at Minnesota, replaced Poapst.
“I think he’s done a great job,” said Hand of Waibel. “I’m playing on the penalty kill and sometimes on the power play, and if anything, I think it’s helped me get better.”
While he looks at colleges, one of Hand’s options will be to return to the Steel for a third season, an option he is willing to accept.
“Right now, I just have to go with it and see what happens,” he said. “My advisor and my dad have been talking to some schools, and I’m not really involved in it yet. If I have to go back to Chicago for another year, that’s fine with me. I like it there, and I’m having a lot of fun.”
Hand’s dream is to play pro hockey, a path that he’s followed since he first started taking skating lessions when he was 3.