Tony Calderone’s Journey from University of Michigan to Dallas StarsSeptember 13, 2018
The NHL Prospect Tournament is wrapped up and main camps across the league are set to begin. So many prospects gave their all in hopes of earning a camp invite and eventually a contract. Unlike seasons before, this season’s tournament held the deepest talent pool I’ve seen. Each team had incredible skaters and goaltenders – all worthy of contracts in their own right. Though all were outstanding, there was one prospect from the Dallas Stars that demanded my attention. Tony Calderone earned an invite to the tournament this season, and rightfully so. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Calderone outshined even the top prospects, like Ty Dellandrea.
Calderone gets his start in the USHL
Calderone played in the USHL for the Sioux Falls Stampede for two seasons prior to getting the call from Michigan. The 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons were incredibly challenging but rewarding for Tony, “Sioux Falls was a major step in my development going into college,” Tony said, “I was matched against older, stronger, and better hockey players than I had ever faced before. It was a wake-up call that showed me I had a lot of work ahead of me if I wanted to have success in that league.” Calderone used his time in the USHL in the most ideal way possible – growing. Not only did his point production (44pts & 41pts) show his skillful play, but his training character grew as well. For many, the USHL is a stepping stone to college or the NHL Draft.
Though a junior league, the USHL, like others, demands a lot from the skaters. In Tony’s case, it meant moving away from home, staying with billet families all while maintaining an education in a strange place. “Playing juniors also forces you to grow up much faster than maybe you want to,” Tony told Access Hockey MI, “Moving away from home and attending a different high school causes you to take more into your own hands.” Calderone handled it well and learning the fragile balance between being a teenager and putting in pro work, paid off.
A dream come true – university of Michigan
Calderone received “the call” that he’d be working so hard for. Coach Wiseman of the University of Michigan wanted Tony for the Big Ten school and Tony couldn’t have been more thrilled, “Growing up in Michigan, attending the University of Michigan had always been a dream of mine. I’ve been a Michigan fan since I was born so to get the call from Coach Wiseman telling me that they wanted me was an amazing feeling,” reflected Tony. Beginning in the 2014-15 season, Calderone was about to face a whole new phase of challenges. “The biggest challenge going into Michigan was competing with the talent that we had,” said Tony, “My first couple years I was playing behind guys who are now in the NHL. Although it was a tough adjustment I learned a lot from the guys ahead of me. They all handled themselves like pros on and off the ice so I was able to take a lot from them and learn what gave them success.”
Tapping into a strong work ethic derived from his time in the USHL, Calderone recognized his need to improve, “I needed to get quicker with everything in my game. Decision making, quicker shot, and quicker to lose pucks.” Calderone was able to take advantage of the elite University of Michigan’s training staff, “I was able to work with the coaching staff and our strength coach to improve on those areas. I was surrounded by people who want to see you succeed so all the help I got from them was huge,” Tony said.
A promotion – Captain tony
Receiving help, focused training and an intense work ethic, Calderone improved from 9 points 28 games in the 2014-15 season to
20 points in 35 games during the 2015-16. Tony’s individual game started to take shape. His drive to improve and work on the ice was a testimony to his understated leadership qualities. Following a successful junior year (2016-17) with 18 points in 31 games, Tony was named Captain of the University of Michigan men’s hockey team. An honor that was unexpected and exciting, little had to change in Calderone’s mind as he stepped onto the ice as the leader. “Being named captain didn’t change my mentality,” Tony said, “I tried to remain who I was throughout the entire process.”
Being who he was not hard for Calderone. Having an incredible team backing him up, Calderone was able to play his game and lead with ease, “We had such a great group of guys it made my job easy. We had no problems and everybody was really committed to win(ning). With such a tight group I didn’t need to do anything out of the ordinary.”
college to the AHL almost overnight
Tony closed out his time with the U of M with his best college season yet. He earned 45 points in 40 games. Unfortunately, Michigan dropped the Frozen Four – so no championship was had for the Captain. However, Tony did get another call that would soon make him forget the Frozen Four loss.
The Texas Stars, the AHL affiliate of the Dallas Stars, were in need and Tony was their guy. “After we lost in the Frozen Four, it was a quick turnaround. We lost on a Thursday and I was on a plane to Austin on Monday,” Tony said. “…emotions didn’t really have time to set in. But once I stepped on the ice for the first time I was definitely nervous.” Playing at a caliber much harder than at the college level, Tony found himself facing yet another battle to the top. Similar to his transition from USHL to college, Calderone had to adjust his mindset and training to adapt to the new pace of the game.
“The pro game is way more structured than I was used to so I found myself running around more than I needed to,” Calderone told me, “The game was much faster than college so I was a step behind.” Despite feeling like he was behind the pack, Tony skated in three games and earned a point during his time with the Stars and learned what to expect for his first full season as a pro. “Even though I only played 3 games at the end of the year I learned a lot about what I had to work on in the summer to prepare myself for the upcoming season,” stated Tony. There is much to learn from the jump from amateurs to pros, and coming into the NHL Prospect Tournament, Calderone was ready to prove he deserved a full-time place on the roster.
NHL Prospect Tournament and Beyond
The tournament provided a platform for Calderone to stand out. Facing some of the best potential NHL-ers from around the world, Tony had the opportunity to show why Dallas needed him. Throughout the tournament, I was consistently amazed at the power he presented every time he stepped onto the ice. Being the driving force on the top line and a huge production line, Calderone’s speed, and forethought was impressive. It’s no wonder Dallas noticed him. Calderone saw his performance a little differently, “I did not perform as well as I would have hoped too. First games of the season are always tough on the legs so by the 3rd game I was playing pretty well,” Tony told me.
Dallas will retain Calderone for the 2018-19 season which will guarantee them an offensive powerhouse. Tony saw his time at the Prospect Tournament as a chance to prepare for his next step, “I think it was a great way to get in shape for the upcoming main camp,” he said, “I am looking forward to improving on what I had started going into (the) main camp.”
Next Stop – NHL
Calderone is approaching the upcoming season with the attitude that surrounded him as captain. Setting his sights on the NHL, Tony knows he needs to make a big impression at camp to get there. “Going into the season with Texas I am looking forward on continuing to grow as a hockey player,” he told Access Hockey MI, “As the season goes on I’m hoping to impress the right people in order to accomplish the ultimate goal of playing in Dallas. I’m extremely excited to start my pro career and see where it goes. I also couldn’t think of a better spot to be than Austin Texas.”
Tony has worked tirelessly to reach the dream of the NHL. He has the tools and skill, without a doubt. He possesses the attitude of a contender. I won’t be surprised if Dallas took him on full-time within the next season. Calderone is an will continue to be a phenomenal athlete.