By the time Dakota Delbridge was 8 years old his lifelong love for hockey had taken hold.
His dad, Lance Delbridge, started taking Dakota to San Jose Sharks games, and Delbridge, now 17, was hooked after he met the Sharks’ players, including then-goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who inspired Dakota to refine his own skills as a goalie.
“I knew this was the sport for me, so I decided to lace some skates up and put some pads on and see where I go from there,” he said.
“Honestly, the smell of fresh-cut ice, it’s just so surreal. It’s like my second home, just the feeling of being on the ice and sitting in that net, just makes me feel great.”
Since then he has played in the California Amateur Hockey Association for the Stockton Colts, Oakland Bears and San Jose Junior Sharks. He advanced his game with the Capital Thunder of Roseville, and for the past three years with the Santa Clara Blackhawks, most recently with the Blackhawks 16AA team.
In his most recent 39-game season with the Blackhawks, Delbridge had 977 saves and six shutouts. It translates to a 1.45 goal-against average, and a save percentage of .938.
It turned out to be the highest level he could advance in California, so now he heads to the East Coast to pursue the next level.
He already planned to go to the East Coast to try out with the Boston Junior Rangers when his mother, Barbara Delbridge, convinced him to send out letters to more East Coast teams.
“I emailed the Boston Bandits and within five hours I got a phone call from the head coach,” he said. Bandits coach Scott Drevitch invited him to try out for the Bandits’ under-18 team, which is set to compete in the East Coast Elite League. It’s a new league designed to give college prospects a higher level of competition, and be noticed by NCAA scouts.
By the time players at the tryout took a water break, the Bandits’ management offered him a place on the team.
This month Delbridge will enroll at Plymouth High School in Plymouth, Mass., for his fall semester. He also expects to maintain the 3.4 grade point average he sustained at Kimball High and return to Tracy in the spring to finish his senior year.
Until then he will live with a local family, which has two boys involved in the sport, while practicing four days a week and playing in the ECEL’s four showcase tournaments.
The Bandits head to Michigan Sept. 6 and 7, Connecticut Oct. 17-19, Colorado Nov. 21-23, and Walpoke, Mass., Dec. 19-21, with a championship tournament in Providence, R.I., Feb. 13-15.
In between the showcase tournaments the Bandits will play in the East Coast Junior Elite Prospects league, including weekend games around the U.S. and home games at the Bridgewater Ice Arena, the Bandits’ home venue in Bridgewater, Mass.
“The players are a lot better out there so it’s going to be a challenge,” the 17-year-old said. “I like to compete. I like the challenges. That will make me into a better player and develop for college.”
Once he’s on the ice, Delbridge, at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, feels right at home protecting the goal.
He said that the challenge of the position is to read the opposing players and know the difference between the moves that indicate a pass or a shot. It’s then up to him to control the puck after the shot.
“I’m really strategic in how I play,” Dakota said. “I can read how plays develop easily. I like to outsmart the forwards. The feeling of making a great save basically completes me.”
Contact Bob Brownne at firstname.lastname@example.org or 830-4227.