Tom Evans skated off the ice last Wednesday at Bird Arena and found his name on a sheet. Among nearly 80 hockey players, he was the only one leaving the rink with good news.
Evans, a freshman defenseman, is the lone walk-on for Ohio Hockey. He beat the odds and stood out to the Bobcat coaching staff.
Growing up in Las Vegas, where the interest in hockey is about as dry as the climate, its shocking that he plays the sport at all.
For the first 15 years of his life, Evans lived in a place where the average highs in winter months barely dipped below 60 degrees. Yet, he fell in love with hockey.
His dad, who grew up playing hockey in his backyard in Calgary, Canada, raised him that way. So at age 5, Evans began to play.
As Evans grew, participation in his youth league started to thin. Sports such as football and baseball reign supreme for pre-teen and teenage boys in Vegas. By age 15, the league folded, and he had a choice to make.
“There were a couple kids my age (playing hockey) in Vegas at the time, and they were driving four hours to LA every weekend to play,” Evans said. “We decided that’s not what we wanted to do.”
Instead, he left home to attend St. Mary’s Preparatory, a Catholic boarding school in Michigan, and he continued playing hockey.
His parents planned to move to Michigan anyway, where his mom is from, but Evans spent his first year at St. Mary’s without them. He stayed with his grandparents on the weekends.
“Our family wanted to (move), but they couldn’t find jobs,” he said. “I needed to get out of there if I wanted to keep playing hockey.”
After graduating high school, Evans played a few years of junior hockey and decided it was time to go back to school. He emailed Ohio coach Sean Hogan in late April, while keeping offers from NCAA Division-III schools in mind.
Hogan, who had already built a loaded freshman class, told Evans there weren’t any guaranteed spots left on the roster. The biggest challenge was that no Ohio coaches or scouts had ever seen him play. His only option was to attend the team’s open tryout.
Nonetheless, Evans chose to come to Ohio. He liked the size of the school, the academic opportunities and he had a friend on the hockey team — sophomore forward Bryan Lubin.
“It had everything I wanted, you know?” he said. “I kind of wanted to go into sports management anyway, and they happen to have the best program in the country.”
Evans spent his final month of summer skating two or three times a week to prepare for the open tryout. It paid off.
“He’s got good size and he’s in great shape and that helps as well,” Hogan said. “He didn’t look tired out there despite the (poor ice conditions).”
When it was announced in August that two defensemen left the program, Hogan planned to take on at least one additional defenseman. Evans earned the spot because of his ability to deliver a solid first pass and to join the offensive rush when needed.
Despite his 6-foot-1, 188-pound build, he admits his physicality needs improvement. But there is time for that.
For now, Evans can enjoy his unlikely story of traveling from Las Vegas to Ohio — for hockey, of all things.
“He just really wanted to be a part of this hockey program and this school,” Hogan said. “So he came here with an opportunity to come to the walk-on camp and he earned it.”