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Schiller moves on to WCHA

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When Joe Schiller departed Detroit Lakes as the Lakers' all-time leading scorer in boys' hockey, his post-high school career kept right on moving.

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The former Laker forward -- who finished with 207 career points at DL -- has quickly progressed through the ranks of the hockey world, already accumulating a season of USHL junior hockey under his belt.

Next up is what many Minnesota hockey players dream of -- playing on the ice of the WCHA.

Schiller will enter this fall as a freshman forward for the Minnesota State University Mankato Mavericks -- a member of the vaunted Division I men's hockey conference.

"It's every kids' dream to play in that conference," Schiller said of the WCHA. "And Mankato is an up and coming team.

"They have some good recruits coming in this year and they had a good season (in 2007-08)."

Schiller's path to Mankato was one taken by many D-I recruits -- by playing in the USHL, where he played in 57 games for the Green Bay (Wis.) Gamblers.

He was the third overall pick in last spring's USHL draft, but Schiller still had to earn his way on the team.

"Coming in, I didn't know what to expect and I just assumed it was going to be difficult to make the team," Schiller said. "That's the way you should go at it, at least."

Since the team had little turnover from the year before and draft status didn't mean as much as it does in the pros, the 20-year-old Schiller just went out and did what he always does in a hockey arena.

He played as hard as he could and played well.

"We had five exhibition games to help the coaches determine who would make the team, and I just went out and played hard," he said. "It was a good way to get your feet wet."

Schiller started the regular season on the front line, while playing good minutes on the power play.

He notched two assists in the first two games, and busted into the goal-scoring column in the 11th game of the season. But Schiller quickly realized the jump from high school to the juniors was a big one.

"It was a huge (transition)," Schiller commented. "It's immeasurable comparing the difference between juniors and high school. From speed to the physical play to skill and goalie play, it was a huge leap.

"Most college coaches say that the leap from high school to juniors is much larger than from juniors to college hockey."

But the rookie settled in quickly for the Gamblers and by the time Christmas time rolled around, Schiller had accumulated 10 goals in 23 games.

Those numbers earned him a spot on the Eastern USHL All-Star team, which was close to home, since it was being played in Green Bay.

But bad luck struck Schiller, when in the game right before the All-Star classic, he separated a shoulder after a strong check he laid on an opponent.

Schiller was forced to sit out the All-Star game, as well as the next three Gamblers' contests. It was the first time in his career Schiller missed any games due to injury, or anything else for that matter.

"It was a good feeling getting picked for the All-Star game, because you are voted on by the opposing coaches," Schiller said. "But it was different missing games (due to the injury)."

Schiller did play in 57 of the Gamblers' 60 games. But the season didn't turn out well for the team, with Green Bay finishing last in the east with a record of 13-41-6.

The season cost the head coach his job midway through the schedule, as well.

Schiller finished the season with 22 points, including 12 goals and 10 assists -- sixth best on the team.

"It was a real grind since we weren't winning," Schiller included. "We went 4-33 after Christmas and I felt I didn't play well after returning from my injury. But at the same time, it was easier getting better individually on a bad team.

"I heard from a USHL coach during a tryout in my junior year (in high school and before his time at Green Bay) that if your ultimate goal is to just play in the USHL, you're in the wrong place. But you still go out and play for your team regardless."

Schiller said playing with a good group of players, as well as having a good host family in Green Bay, made his time in the USHL enjoyable and worthwhile.

And in reality, Green Bay was a good launching pad to his next stop -- Mankato.

WCHA dreams come alive

When Schiller made his first -- and only -- visit to Minnesota State Mankato, his choice was made.

"They were one of the few (D-I) teams who pursued me and my only visit there was enough for me," Schiller said. "It was an easy decision."

Schiller will be vying for playing time as a skill position player, and his job will be to put the puck in the net.

"Head coach (Troy) Jutting told me outright that he was recruiting me to be a skill player and not some kind of bruiser," the future Mav said. "In the future, hopefully I'll be playing at the center position and time on the power play."

Schiller has added 10 pounds to his 6-0 frame, something he will need for the physical play of the WCHA.

But his first challenge will be from his teammates, as he will be fighting for playing time during his freshman season.

"It may take some time to learn (the college game), but I'm confident heading in," Schiller said.

The Mavericks play such teams as the University of Minnesota, Wisconsin, University of North Dakota, Denver and Colorado College -- all past NCAA National Champions in the last decade.

Schiller will also see a very familiar face when Mankato plays conference rival St. Cloud State University.

Former DL native and fellow Laker Garrett Raboin has been a mainstay in the SCSU Husky lineup, and will be a junior defenseman captain this season.

Schiller even recalled during his junior season at DL, a Mankato recruiter visited him after a game. After the visit, Raboin -- who was on holiday break from SCSU -- joked with Schiller, "Get to Mankato ASAP so I can run you."

"Garrett is a wiley veteran," Schiller said with a laugh. "Oh, it will be interesting meeting up with St. Cloud. But hey, I'm bigger than him -- just maybe not stronger."

With a mini-rivalry already set between two former Lakers, Schiller has many future memories to make on college's most premier ice arena -- the WCHA.

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