by Amy Moritz
It's a big weekend for Ben Danford what with his graduation from Canisius College and his birthday wrapped into one neat celebration. Friends and family members stumped for a gift might want to look at English-French phrase books or perhaps an edition or two of Lonely Planet tour guides.
"I've never been to Europe and this is a good opportunity to not only play hockey but to see the world," Danford said. "I think looking back when I'm older I won't regret the decision."
A native of Stillwater, Minn., Danford's 74 assists are the most in program history by a defenseman while his 84 points rank second. A Third-Team All-Atlantic Hockey selection he was named the Griffs' most valuable player this season.
After Canisius lost in the Atlantic Hockey championship game, Danford signed an amateur tryout contract with the Manchester Monarchs with the AHL. He played in three games before injuring knee -- an irony after Danford went his entire four year collegiate career without missing one game. That's a 158-game streak, the 13th-longest streak in NCAA history.
Danford said he never expected to have an AHL opportunity this season and while he could have tried the pro hockey route in North America and attempt to make a club out of a fall training camp, he opted for the opportunity in France.
"In the long run, this is a better fit for me," Danford said. "I think with my age and where I stand in my game right now, it just suits me better."
As far as the knee, a strained ligament from an awkward hit, he has been working his first real round of rehabilitation in his hockey career.
"I've been working out regularly and lifting the same amount of weight I did before the injury," Danford said. "It's back to normal and I can start skating soon.
"I've been very lucky in college and even in my youth years, I never had any injury that put me out this long a time. It was always just minor things here and there. This is the first time I've experienced anything like this. It's not easy. But I stayed diligent and kept working on it. The knee is stronger and feels good now."
Danford will graduate from Canisius with a degree in management on Saturday -- the same day he turns 25. He will have two months before he packs and heads over to France for training camp in August.
"It really hasn't all hit me yet," Danford said. "Once I start packing I'll probably have a huge culture shock."
The culture shock will be eased slightly by his former teammate and roommate Preston Shupe who will join Danford on the Strasbourg team. Shupe, who graduated from Canisius in 2013, played this past season with the Columbus (Georgia) Cottonmouths in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
"We pretty much signed at the same time and it was a bit of a package deal for us to go to the same team," Danford said. "We talked it over with each other and thought this opportunity was the best for fit for us.
"They start up in the beginning of August and the exhibition games start soon after that. The season runs from late August through earlier April so it's a little earlier than North America. They play a lot less games which makes it attractive and easier on the body. They play a little more than 40 games so it's similar to a college season."