Dax Lauwers has respect for the military and his time in West Point, N.Y., attending school at the U.S. Military Academy, but he made a decision he believed was best for himself to have a chance to play pro hockey.
The defenseman is back playing for the Lincoln Stars this season after playing for Army last season. The Stars begin the 60-game United States Hockey League season at home against Sioux Falls on Friday.
Lauwers played for the Stars for one season in 2009-10. He had interest from a few colleges but decided to head to West Point, in part because he wanted to get the best education he could and to study engineering.
Last year, Lauwers took part in cadet basic training and also skated for the Black Knights, playing in 33 of 35 games. Over the summer, Lauwers decided to leave West Point.
"What it came down to is I grew up playing hockey my whole life, and what I realized when I got to Army is that hockey is too big a part of my life to not be able to see past that last year of college," Lauwers said.
"If I had the opportunity to play after school — which I'm hoping to do — I want to have the chance. At Army, with what the Army is doing now overseas in the military, a lot of times a second lieutenant who graduates from West Point, it doesn't matter how good a hockey player he is, he has an obligation to the military. You understand that when you go there. I chose to take the other route while I still could."
If Lauwers had remained at Army until his junior year, he likely would have had a five-year commitment following graduation, making a pro hockey career unlikely.
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Also, by leaving now when he's 20 years old, Lauwers is eligible to play one more season in the USHL. He hopes to attract the attention of a big-name college program for next season.
Leaving the U.S. Military Academy was a lengthy process, Lauwers said. He returned to West Point from his home in Anchorage, Alaska. After needing only a few days to turn in his gear and complete exit interviews, Lauwers had to wait three weeks before he could get the final signature from a general to be allowed to leave. It was a tough time, Lauwers said, but he was able to spend the time working out.
In Lincoln, Lauwers rejoins a squad that returns seven players from last season's playoff team.
"I'm happy with my decision," Lauwers said. "I like the looks of our team. We don't have one or two guys that are going to carry the team. We got a bunch of guys contributing. It reminds me of Boston playing Vancouver in the Stanley Cup finals last year. Boston was kind of a blue-collar team — they had Tim Thomas, who played huge for them — but they had all the pieces come together."
Stars head coach Chad Johnson said he is glad to have Lauwers, a rugged 6-foot-3, 220-pounder, on the team.
"Dax is obviously a physical presence, and people know when he's on the ice and are aware of him," Johnson said.