LaDouce not fazed by distance, ‘excited’ for Fairbanks opportunity

A Freeland, Mich., native, James LaDouce covered more than 1,000 miles to play junior hockey for the Minot Minotauros.

He’ll travel more than twice as far in pursuit of NCAA Division I hockey.

But that doesn’t bother him.

“Playing Division I hockey is something you dream of as a kid,” LaDouce said. “As far as the distance for me, that wasn’t as much of an issue. I knew that wherever I went, I was always going to be just a plane ride from home no matter what. Distance didn’t really play a factor. It was just all about capturing that dream I’ve had since I was a kid.”

Next season, LaDouce will realize that dream at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

LaDouce is the seventh current or former Minot player to make a Division I commitment this year, and will join the Nanooks for the 2016-17 season.

“I think he brings a lot of things to the table,” Minot coach Marty Murray said. “I think the opposition is aware of him when he’s on the ice. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but pound for pound he can really punish you physically. And obviously I think the offensive side of his game has really evolved this year. He’s probably never been in that situation, but he’s got 10 goals and 30-plus points, so he’s added that to his repertoire, too.”

In fact, LaDouce is on pace to break Jon Lizotte’s single-season franchise record for points by a defenseman (34). Through 55 games, LaDouce has scored 10 goals and provided 22 assists.

LaDouce – who played last season for the USHL’s Lincoln Stars – also racked up a goal and an assist as a Central Division representative at the North American Hockey League’s top prospects tournament.

Murray has high hopes for LaDouce’s future.

“I think the sky’s the limit for a kid like that,” Murray said. “I think there’s still room for improvement, but I think he will. He never really played that role prior to coming here, but he’s embraced it and made the best of it. I’m happy for him. Sometimes you don’t know how a player’s attitude is going to be coming from a higher league, and from Day 1 he bought in and was one of the guys. He’s been a good leader since he arrived here in early September.”

The promise of immediate playing time fed LaDouce’s desire to join the Nanooks.

“I think there were a few things that came into play,” Murray said. “He talked to some schools, and I think Alaska was consistently the one showing the most interest in him. It’s another one of those things where a few of our other guys have been. There have been situations where guys think they’ll have a chance to go somewhere and play right away and play a significant role, and I think that was the case for James. He obviously researched the college and talked to the coaching staff. I’m confident it’s going to be a good fit for him.”

LaDouce scored one goal and six assists while playing in 49 games of 60 games. He was subsequently drafted by the Tauros in the second round of the 2015 NAHL draft.

“And the rest is history,” Murray said.

“I came here not knowing what to expect, but Marty and all the coaches and all my teammates have been great to me,” LaDouce said. “It’s been a great opportunity ever since I got here. The fan base is awesome, the city has everything you need and my billet family’s been great. I have everything you’d want as a junior player here, and it’s been outstanding.”

Joe Mellenbruch covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @Mellenbruch_MDN.