A new season, a new team, and Michael Lata is having no problems fitting in with the St. Michael’s Buzzers.
Lata played the last three seasons with the Phillips Academy hockey team, a prep school in Massachusetts, but made the move back closer to home for the 2014-15 season.
“The guys are really great,” Lata said after the Buzzers were beaten 8-4 by the North York Rangers Friday night in their regular-season opener. “Eddy [captain Ian Edmondson] is phenomenal in helping the guys integrate well with the team so it’s been a good ride so far.”
Lata could have stayed in Toronto but decided he wanted to go to a prep school for a number of reasons – a move he didn’t regret it.
“It was fantastic,” he said. “It was the best three years of my life. I chose to go there because it’s got a fantastic education and the hockey is really good.
“Junior wasn’t the right fit for me as a 16 year old.”
Back in Toronto
Now back in Toronto, Lata says he learned a lot about his game that he can apply in the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL), while admitting his biggest takeaway was knowing he had to work hard on every shift.
From his time in Massachusetts, the centreman said he watched Boston Bruins star Patrice Bergeron regularly and now looks up to him.
“I love the way he plays so if I can be half the player he is I’ll be happy with that,” Lata said.
Buzzers assistant coach Vic Criscuolo, who is also director of recruiting, said the team wanted Lata for his versatility.
“He’s very good down low,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why we added him to this team and he’s strong on the puck.”
There’s going to be an adjustment period for Lata as the game is different at the OJHL level than he was used to in the United States High School (USHS) league.
“Like a lot of prep school guys that come up here it’s a bit of an adjustment so he needs to learn to play sides of the rink,” Criscuolo said. “The speed of the game here is a little bit quicker than it was down in prep school last year but he’s a big strong kid who handles the puck well [and] has good hands.
“At the end of the day we expect him to put up some decent numbers and be a two-way type centreman for us as we role on.”
However, Lata will only be spending one year in the OJHL. He’s committed to play NCAA Division I hockey with Colgate University for the 2015-16 season.
His decision to go there was an easy one.
“I had a couple of other offers but Colgate was the one I wanted to go to from the beginning,” said Lata. “Going to prep school I really liked the idea of small class sizes so going to Colgate fits really well in that respect and they have a very good hockey team.
“They’re getting a new rink this year, it’s not far from home, about four hours, 15 minutes, so it’s a perfect fit for me.”
While Lata’s excited for his future he’s not overlooking how important his one season with the Buzzers is going to be for his career.
“This is really the first year I’ve had the chance to put hockey before anything else so I’m looking forward to getting better every day.”