by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Zac Dalpe sat in an Ohio State classroom on March 17 with his eyes on a final exam for a human development and family studies class and his mind on Carolina.
Dalpe was just 48 hours or so away from beginning his career in the Carolina Hurricanes’ organization with the Albany River Rats. But like all good players he zoomed in on the task at hand.
"It was kind of hard to focus," he said. "But I wanted to end off strong. If I didn’t, I would have wasted the last 10 weeks of the quarter."
Dalpe, a sophomore for the Buckeyes, is not sure what he got on the test, but he earned a B-plus in the course, so he figured he did OK. The studious groove carried over. Within 11 days, he was acing AHL 101.
That’s how long of a stretch, covering five games, that it took the center to post five goals and one assist for the Rats. The burst included a hat trick in his fourth pro game, at Syracuse on March 27. Clearly, Dalpe has no regard for the standard pro hockey learning curve.
"A lot of people have said, ‘You had a great start,’" said Dalpe, a second-round pick by Carolina in the 2008 draft. "I feel like I’m still in my starting process."
That’s a perfect match for a River Rats team about to start its second season. As one of the few challengers with an outside shot of even raising the eyebrow of defending Calder Cup champ Hershey, Albany still needed a scoring center to round out its lineup. Enter the enthusiastic and speedy Dalpe.
"We’ve lacked an offensive center all year," Albany coach Jeff Daniels. "He definitely made a good first impression the first week."
Anybody who is just catching Dalpe’s act now and thinks maybe they are seeing a star in the making is already at least six years too late. Dalpe’s dad, Paul, developed an off-ice puck control training system called Tape-2-Tape. If you check out the product’s website, you’ll see an instructional video staring 14-year-old Zac working his sleight-of-hand and one-timing lasers into a net.
"I definitely had a better pair of hands then than I do now," Zac joked. "You think it was just yesterday. But it was seven years ago. It might be time for a new video, but the company is doing well, they haven’t changed it up now."
A few seasons later, Dalpe took those fast mitts and accurate shot to Ohio State. As a freshman, he went 13-12-25 and was named to the CCHA all-rookie team. This season, his 21 goals paced the CCHA and his 45 points ranked him second. The effort earned him a spot on the league’s first-team all-star squad. It also built a strong enough platform for him to decide he was ready to play for pay.
"There was pros and cons. Obviously, they (Carolina) thought I had a good year," Dalpe said. "I was a leader, I was one of the captains. I didn’t have time to reflect (that) I was turning pro. Growing up, you always wanted to be a pro. You are kind of in awe at the start, but you want to be confident in yourself."
Daniels gave his project an instant security blanket, pairing him on a line with highly skilled wing Jiri Tlusty. Daniels appreciated how the slippery Dalpe didn’t have to be told to pick up the pace, that he came in knowing the importance of attacking with speed.
"We put him in a situation where he was with offensive players, and see what he can do," Daniels said. "The good thing about him coming in now is he’s been playing all year. He’s able to run with it right now."
Dalpe’s refined game sense and aggressiveness have also plastered a smile on the coach’s face. Dalpe said he loves to shoot and doesn’t shy away from that habit. That approach stems from his childhood.
Dalpe is the middle of three hockey-playing sons, and when the trio gathered to play passing the biscuit to each other wasn’t always a priority. Dalpe joked that the reluctance of each to surrender it was the reason his dad invented the passing aide.
But Dalpe is judicious when deciding to shoot and accurate when he lets it rip. His first five goals with Albany came on a total of only 12 bids.
"I’m very puck hungry, especially in the college game, I had a lot of shots on net," said Dalpe, 20. "I don’t think it’s a selfish thing. If you have to pass, pass. But a shot is never a bad thing."
The one thing about pro hockey that still has Dalpe baffled is this concept of free time. One afternoon last week he roamed around his hotel room trying to come to grips with the notion that outside claims on his schedule ended with that final exam at Ohio State.
"I’m still getting used to not going to school. It’s weird," he said. "When you went to college and had some free time, you had your head buried in a book."
The Rats are glad that Dalpe decided to crane his neck up and look around. What he sees is appealing, although intentionally shortsighted.
"The only thing that’s next for me is morning skate tomorrow morning and a game tomorrow night," he said "I’m one of those guys who doesn’t project himself. I don’t look too far ahead."