Two former Castleton State College hockey players, Stuart Stefan and Jonathan Lafrance, have taken their talents to Huntsville, Alabama to pursue their professional hockey aspirations.
Stefan, a forward from Delhi, Ontario and all-time leading scorer for the Spartans hockey team and Lafrance, a rugged two-way defenseman from Notre-Dame-de-l’Ãle-Perrot, Quebec, are now teammates for the Huntsville Havoc of the Southern Professional Hockey League.
Both players graduated from Castleton in 2011.
“Stu” and “Laffy,” as they’re called by their Castleton teammates, are living together in an apartment complex in Huntsville.
“It’s something college teammates don’t expect to have happen. I’m very fortunate to play on the same team as Stu once again,” Lafrance said.
“It helps to know someone,” added the soft-spoken Stefan.
Both players have their own unique reasons for taking the next step to the professional level.
“I wanted to keep playing hockey and stay in the game for as long as possible,” said Stefan, a man of few words, but one who has a big heart.
Lafrance, a man of many words, stated in his French accent that he wanted to keep playing, “for love of the game and the fact that it is something I always wanted to do since I was young.”
The duo said the average salary for a first-year SPHL player is about $250 per week. Living expenses, internet, cable and electric are paid for by the organization, and they get 50 percent off at several restaurants around town. When on the road for away games, players are paid $20 a day, and dinners are usually paid for by the team.
The typical professional game day routine consists of a 9 a.m. wake-up, a pregame skate at 10 a.m., team lunch after the skate, home for some rest, a quick snack and then back to the rink at 5 p.m. for their 7 p.m. games.
“My first shift in the pros I was so excited and wired it was awesome. I was all over the place hitting, got a couple shots on net and played solid. Not gonna lie, my legs were a little wobbly,” Lafrance said, giggling in his broken English.
Stefan said his first shift was equally memorable.
“I was nervous, but excited at the same time, but when it comes down to it, the game is still the same,” he said.
Stefan also spoke about time away from the ice and how much fun he’s having in the south.
“We work in the morning, go to the golf course or workout during the day and live the dream of a hockey player,” he said.
The professional game also offers one part of hockey that the NCAA game fails to allow; fighting, which Lafrance loves.
“The adrenaline rush is so high during the fight that you don’t actually feel anything, but after the fight you enjoy that feeling, win or lose. It can be very hard at times if you don’t control those emotions,” said Lafrance, who has five fights on the season.
Stefan has yet to register a fight, but said he isn’t opposed to the idea.
“I would if the opportunity presented itself.”
Alex Todd, head coach for the Spartans, had nothing but praise for his former players.
“Both guys brought a real professional and mature approach to the Castleton program and community,” said Todd.
Todd, who also played professionally after his four years at Division I Union College, talked about what the professional game is like and described his role as a pro.
“My biggest strength was also my biggest weakness. I was always a team first kind of guy in order to do what was best for the team, but to advance, there is a certain level of ME needed at the pro level,” he said.
He added with a huge smile that his time in the West Coast Hockey League and Central Hockey League, was an “AWESOME experience.”
Kurt Colling, a graduate assistant for the Spartans hockey team, also spoke glowingly about the duo.
“Stu was easy to coach and led by example on the ice. Laffy lived to compete and was the hardest worker in the weight room,” he said, adding that Lafrance holds the Castleton team record for front squat at 385 lbs.
Former teammates also spoke fondly of them and talked about what they meant to the team while at Castleton.
Sophomore forward, Nick Lazorko, the new single-season goal leader, said he learned from Stefan by, “watching him score goals.” Lazorko also said that Lafrance was “wise on and off the ice.”
Another Castleton teammate, Terrence Hermans, agreed.
“I was privileged and honored to play with them, and I held them on a high pedestal to be leaders, which they were,” he said with a smile.
When receiving the news that they signed professionally for the Huntsville Havoc, Todd couldn’t have been more proud.
“It felt great. To put four years of hard work into our program socially, academically and hockey wise is a testament to those guys,” Todd said.
But they aren’t the only Castleton alumni to make the jump to the professional level. Jared Lavender, Travis Martell and Omar Pacha are the other three alumni to previously go pro.
With the program’s recent success and national rankings, the opportunity for more Castleton graduates to play professionally looks promising.