By Scott Linesburgh
The Stockton Record
STOCKTON, Calif. — There’s some-thing special about getting a chance to become a professional player in the same city where you discovered the game you love.
Drew Sanders, 24, learned how to play hockey at Oak Park Ice Arena as a member of the Stockton Colts youth program. The Modesto resident hopes to go to Stockton Arena and earn a roster spot with the Thunder.
Sanders agreed to terms on a contract with the ECHL team on Friday and will go to training camp in early October. He is the first former Colt to ink a deal with the city’s professional hockey team.
“I’m thrilled to get this opportunity with the Thunder,” Sanders said. “My parents are really happy.”
His parents, Steve and Linda Sanders, made a financial commitment with the Thunder as soon as their son was offered a contract.
“My first thought was that I’m getting season tickets, and I’m getting them as fast as can,” Steve Sanders said. “And that’s exactly what I did. I have confidence in him.”
Drew Sanders is getting his shot at joining the Thunder because he impressed Thunder coach Chris Cichocki with his play as a forward and center at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.
But he started his hockey career as a Colt.
“I was 9 years old when I started with the Colts, and it was a wonderful experience,” Drew Sanders said. “Hey, this is where I started.”
His coach with the Colts’ Squirts team was Pete Turner Jr., the former softball coach at Delta College and the current U.S. Men’s National Fastpitch coach and head coach at San Jose State. Turner remembers Sanders as someone who would do anything to learn the game.
“He played with my son, C.J., and Drew was always really dedicated to learning the skills of hockey,” Turner said. “He’s a great young man.”
Stockton Colts President Anna Lane said the organization will be rooting for Drew and hopes more local players get a chance to play professional hockey.
“This is great, and we certainly all hope that Drew makes it,” Lane said. “There’s a lot of talent around here, and I think there’s an opportunity for the Thunder to look to develop local players.”
Sanders also played for the Nor Cal Rep Program, the forerunner of the Junior Sharks program in the Bay Area. He left Beyer High School in Modesto after his sophomore year to attend school and play hockey in Marquette, Mich.
He played four seasons at Sacred Heart, scoring five goals. But Cichocki is fond of his rugged style.
“All my research about him revealed a determined, hard-working guy with good hockey sense,” Cichocki said. “He can play, and he’ll have a chance to make the team.”
Sanders is trying to improve his chances by working out at the Oak Park ice rink with his old Nor Cal Rep coach, Derek Eisler, who said he has what it takes to play in the ECHL.
Sanders plans to make sure that prediction is accurate. After all, Mom and Dad already bought their season tickets.