Sports

Cratsenberg skates into professional hockey career

T.C. Cratsenberg reacts after scoring a preseason goal for the Spokane Chiefs. Cratsenberg, 16, played last year with Detroit Compuware, an elite junior hockey program in Michigan and was the team’s second-leading scorer with 19 goals in 30 games. - Photo courtesy Cratsenberg family
T.C. Cratsenberg reacts after scoring a preseason goal for the Spokane Chiefs. Cratsenberg, 16, played last year with Detroit Compuware, an elite junior hockey program in Michigan and was the team’s second-leading scorer with 19 goals in 30 games.
— image credit: Photo courtesy Cratsenberg family

T.C. Cratsenberg is officially a professional hockey player.

The Federal Way 16-year-old is currently skating with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League. The 6-foot-2, 192-pound left winger signed with the Chiefs last month after being selected last year in the sixth round pick by Spokane.

“Everything is going great,” Cratsenberg said. “I love it. Spokane is a great city with great fans. It’s an unbelievable atmosphere.”

The WHL is one of the three Major Junior ice hockey leagues, which constitute the Canadian Hockey League. The other two are the Ontario Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The three leagues are the major feeder programs into the National Hockey League. Last year alone, 37 WHL players were selected in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, including nine in the first round.

Signing a professional contract was a huge decision for Cratsenberg, who had always dreamed of playing college hockey. But it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. After being drafted by Spokane in the 2007 WHL Bantam Draft, which included the top 15-year-old prospects in North America, Cratsenberg earned a coveted spot on one of the premier 16-and-under junior hockey teams in the nation — Detroit Compuware. The team played close to 80 games and has fed several players into professional hockey.

During his one season in Michigan, Cratsenberg, who attended a Detroit-area high school during his sophomore year, finished as the team’s second-leading scorer with 19 goals in 30 league games.

“Detroit is an awesome place,” Cratsenberg said. “It’s hockey central. It is a lot better than (Federal Way). There is a lot more hockey and I learned a lot.”

Cratsenberg also learned that he wanted to further his hockey career and that didn’t include playing in college. This is the first year Cratsenberg would be eligible to play i the WHL, which includes players from 16 to 20 years old.

“I flew back to Spokane for tryouts and if I didn’t sign a contract, I was going to go back to Michigan and play there. But the (Western Hockey League) is better than college hockey, by far. It will get me ready for the NHL better than college hockey. They produce more pros than college.”

So far this season, Cratsenberg has played in five games for the Chiefs and has yet to tally a regular-season goal or assist. Cratsenberg, however, does lead Spokane in penalty minutes per game. The 6-foot-1, 192-pounder has racked up 13 penalty minutes.

Spokane is currently leading the U.S. Division of the Western Hockey League with a 6-1-2 record after winning the WHL Memorial Cup a season ago. The U.S. Division includes the Seattle Thunderbirds, Tri-City Americans, Everett Silvertips and the Portland Winterhawks. Spokane will play in Everett on Oct. 31 and will take on the Thunderbirds in Seattle on Dec. 28.

“We have a lot of veterans coming back off the championship team,” Cratsenberg said. “I am not playing as much this year, but practices are my games. That is where you better yourself as a player.”

Cratsenberg got his indoctrination into professional hockey last week when he dropped the gloves for the first time in the WHL against Travis Erhardt, the captain of the Portland Winterhawks.

“It went good,” he said about his first pro hockey fight. “The guy was a 19-year-old and their best player. I landed one over his forehead and then he landed one on my mouth and almost knocked my tooth through my lip. It was a good fight.”

Cratsenberg has proven to be the best hockey players in Washington during his decorated junior career. Along with playing for the Detroit Compuware elite squad, he was also invited to two-straight USA Hockey Select Player Development Camps in 2006 and ‘07, where he was the only player from Washington.

During the 2006 season, Cratsenberg played for the Seattle Junior Thunderbirds and led the premier select team in the state with 67 points in 42 games, including 35 goals.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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