With the regular NHL season having drawn to a close and the Stanley Cup playoffs officially underway, it seems that there's only one thing all North American sports fans can talk about - hockey. Every year, no matter whether these fans are typically die-hard basketball lovers or crazy baseball stadium-goers, the spring months of April and May unfailingly transform them all into wild NHL devotees, with the hockey fever hysteria reaching its ultimate peak in early June.
For college students and aspiring student-athletes, however, there's always one question that's tugging in the back of their minds: Which universities did these NHL superstars go to? Granted, many of hockey history's greatest players were drafted into the NHL straight out of high school, but some, such as Alex Ovechkin and Jonathan Toews, opted instead to first attend college as student-athletes or as regular undergraduates for several years before embarking on their professional careers.
Without further ado, here are seven of hockey history's best NHL players and their alma maters.
An electrifying whirlwind of size, speed, strength and sheer skill, Alex Ovechkin, currently the left wing for the Washington Capitals, is widely regarded as one of the most powerful goal-scorers in modern hockey history.
To date, he has played an astounding total of 1003 NHL games since 2005 and has scored 1,122 points, with 102 game-winning goals and 22 overtime goals. Furthermore, on March 12, 2018, Ovechkin scored his 600th career goal, becoming the 20th player to ever reach this a feat, and the 4th scorer to do so in less than 1000 games.
"Teams always have their top pairing out against [Ovechkin]," former Capitals teammate Michael Latta told The Washington Post. "Anytime you get that combination of scoring ability and physical presence, it's scary. He'll flatten you and a lot of the time give you a minus, too."
However, Ovechkin is perhaps most famous for the legendary goal he had scored during his very first NHL season - "The Goal".
During a game played against the Phoenix Coyotes, Ovechkin, knocked down and skidding on his back facing away from the net, somehow managed to gain control of the puck - with only one hand on his stick - and scored backhanded.
It's no surprise that this moment has since become immortalized for the hockey history books.
In 1980, after narrowly escaping the Soviet Union's encroaching takeover of eastern Europe, Czechoslovakian hockey player Peter Stastny defected to Canada, where he immediately entered the NHL as the Quebec Nordiques center. During his first NHL season, he quickly garnered fans' respect and admiration by becoming the first rookie in the league to score over 100 points, and also tied for scoring the most number of assists (70) as a rookie.
These astounding first-season victories had been just a small taste of all that was to follow. During the entirety of his NHL career, which lasted from 1980 to 1995, Statsny amassed a total of 1239 points (the 34th highest in league history), with 450 goals and 789 assists, thus becoming the second most-prolific scorer of the 1980's.
In 1998, in recognition of his outstanding accomplishments, Stasny was formally inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Since his draft as a 23rd pick in 2003, Ryan Kessler, currently the alternate captain and the center for the Anaheim Ducks, has gone on to establish himself as one of the NHL's top faceoff players and two-way forwards, equally capable of competing both on the offense and the defense. He is also the 2011 winner and a two-time finalist for the Selke Trophy, a distinction awarded annually to the NHL's best defensive forward. Furthermore, with his extraordinary speed and powerful wrist shots, combined with his imposing strength and size, Kessler is also a formidable weapon, both on the penalty kill and on the power play.
Celebrated retired NHL right wing, Martin St. Louis, began his professional career with the Calgary Flames in 1998, before moving to the Tamp Bay Lightning in 2000, and the New York Rangers in 2014.
Despite standing at 5-ft-8 inches as one of the NHL's smallest players, St. Louis' passion and drive led to some undeniable successes throughout his career. For instance, he has received the Art Ross Trophy, a distinction awarded annually to the league's top scorer, on two separate occasions, and has also twice held the lead for the most number of assists. Furthermore, in 2003, St. Louis was voted by the other NHL players for the Lester B. Pearson Award as the league's most valuable player, and has also been named to an NHL All-Star Team five times.
Even with this stunning array of distinctions, however, St. Louis always remained humble, both on and off the ice, exhibiting unfailing levels of respect, trust and honesty towards his teammates and his opponents.
It thus comes as no surprise that St. Louis was awarded the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy on three occasions for displaying "the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability".
Jonathan Toews, currently the captain and the center for the Chicago Blackhawks, is the youngest player in hockey history to join the Triple Gold Club, an elite group of select players and coaches who have won an Olympic gold medal, a World Championship gold medal and the Stanley Cup playoffs.
As the second-youngest team captain in the NHL, Toews has also led his team to a Stanley Cup victory on three occasions, and was awarded the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2015 for his superior leadership and positive contribution to his team and his community.
In addition to his dedication and motivation, Toews is also famous for his skilled on-ice performance as a center and a forward. For instance, in 2013, he received the Selke Trophy, a distinction awarded annually to the NHL's best defensive forward, and in 2010, was named Best Forward of the Tournament during the winter Olympics.
To date, Toews has amassed a total of 674 points, with 292 goals and 382 assists.
Duncan Keith, currently the alternate captain and the two-way defenseman for the Chicago Blackhawks, is best known for his outstanding capabilities in both offensive and shutdown situations. By 2009, he had established himself, along with teammate Brent Seabrook, as one of the NHL's top shutdown defensive pairings, and in 2010, was awarded the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league's best defenseman during the offseason.
To date, Keith has also helped lead the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cup victories, and in 2015, was named the playoff's MVP. On top of all this, as part of the Team Canada men's hockey team, Keith has also won two Olympic gold medals, one in 2010 and the other in 2014.
Tim Thomas, former goaltender for the Boston Bruins, is a two-time winner of the Vezina Trophy (a distinction awarded annually to the top goaltender in the NHL), as well as the oldest player and the first American-born goaltender to have been named a Stanley Cup MVP.
In 2011, Thomas set an all-time record for the most saves in a single postseason (798) and in a Stanley Cup series (238), as well as an unheard-of save percentage of 0.967 in the Stanley Cup Finals. Furthermore, in 2012, Thomas went on to become the first goaltender in the NHL to win four consecutive back-to-back All-Star Games.
During the entirety of his 12-year NHL career, Thomas posted an astounding 0.920 career save percentage, blocking 11,795 out of 12,822 shots on goal, and amassed a total of 31 shutouts.
They say that college is a time for self-discovery and improvements, and nowhere else is this statement more clearly exemplified than in these seven NHL superstars. Their rigorous training, athleticism and dedication to their sport will always remain an inspiration to us all, especially for those students of the same colleges, to explore, to push our boundaries, and above all, to seek out our passions - and pursue them.