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Licari picks Wisconsin early

Nick Licari has decided to attend college and play hockey at the University of Wisconsin, and his reason for the timing of his decision best describes the quality of person the Badgers have landed. "I felt I owed it to my teammates," Licari said.

Nick Licari has decided to attend college and play hockey at the University of Wisconsin, and his reason for the timing of his decision best describes the quality of person the Badgers have landed. "I felt I owed it to my teammates," Licari said.
He meant his teammates at Duluth East, which is a refreshing dedication in an era when increasing numbers of promising players look for reasons to leave high school early to play on junior teams. But Licari has been playing on East's varsity since eighth grade, and while he can guarantee being a Badger will fully consume him for the four following years, he says he wants to make sure nothing intrudes on his focus for his senior year with the Greyhounds.
Licari had been contacted by UMD, Michigan Tech, Wisconsin and North Dakota, and after making unofficial visits with his parents to all four, he made official visits to Michigan Tech, Wisconsin and North Dakota. Ultimately, he said, Wisconsin won his choice by offering the best complete package of academics and hockey, because he is as intent on studying medicine as he is on playing hockey.
"It was tough," Licari said. "From the outside, I'm sure a lot of people might say, 'That kid's got it made.' But from the inside, it's extremely stressful for a 17 or 18-year-old kid to decide on where to spend the next four or five years of his life. I'm very happy with my decision, and I feel very blessed to have this opportunity, but it was really a tough decision. I'm giving them my life for the next four or five years, and I've only been to Madison twice in my life -- on my two visits there."
Licari has been playing at East since he was in eighth grade. He was a solid regular by ninth grade, and often the team's best player as a sophomore and junior. He always has been devoted to the Greyhounds, and after being captain as a junior, he is determined to make his final season something special, which means nothing should intrude on it -- even recruiting visits.
"It honestly felt different to go to captain's practice having made the decision," said Licari. "I wanted to get it done before hockey season started at East; I feel I owe that to my teammates. I want to play this season for East, not for any scouts. There's always been that certain pressure that somebody was up there watching you, even though you don't know who and you don't now where, you just know you have to play your best.
"I want to play hard and not make any mistakes, but for my team, not for anyone else. I want to have my mind totally set on high school hockey this season."
East coach Mike Randolph has said that Licari is the most complete hockey player he has ever coached, and the feeling obviously is mutual. "Coach Randolph helped guide me through everything," said Licari. "He's the most knowledgeable hockey person I know, and I talked to him two or three times a week all through the summer. When you call him, he's always more than happy to drop everything and come over to my house to discuss anything, and the same goes for every player on our team."
Licari grew up dreaming of playing for UMD, and he considered UMD a front-runner until after he and his family drove off to visit Houghton, Madison and Grand Forks late this past summer. He said the money wasn't a major factor in his decision, although he had full scholarship offers from Tech and Wisconsin, and a nearly full offer from North Dakota, while he reportedly was offered about 60 percent of a full from UMD.
"I always wanted to go to UMD, although I also didn't know what else was out there," Licari said. "When I started to go on these unofficial team visits, it opened my eyes to some other possibilities. I know my parents wanted me to go to UMD, because it would be easy for them to get to the DECC for every game. They'll go to Madison, too, but realistically, how many times can they go down there? It would have been the easiest for them to watch me if I went to UMD.
"But I haven't heard from UMD since about Labor Day, and after my other visits, and a lot of thought, I talked it over with my mom and dad and made my decision. All the others had a lot to offer. Michigan Tech is a good school, and they treated me with a lot of respect. It was hard to call there and tell them I wasn't coming, because they were very professional and said that if I had any problems that they could help me with, to feel free to call them."
Licari made the decision Wednesday, but didn't want to announce it until he'd had the chance to contact the Michigan Tech and North Dakota coaching staffs. North Dakota head coach Dean Blais had asked him to delay his decision while he tried to juggle financial commitments he'd already made, but Licari had decided to make his pick this week.
"North Dakota also treated me well," Licari said. "I've never seen anything like their new arena. They have all their championship banners up in the rafters, and they're going to be contenders for years to come. I noticed they don't have any runner-up banners there, only championship banners. They don't settle for being second. A couple of my buddies wondered why I didn't choose North Dakota, because right now, they probably have the best hockey program in the country, but I thought that for me, Wisconsin had the best combination of academics and hockey."
Mark Johnson, a former Badger All-America, the son of the late and legendary coach Badger Bob Johnson, and a star on the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, returned from a career in the National Hockey League to become an assistant to Jeff Sauer at Wisconsin. It was Johnson who spotted Licari playing for East in the Edina holiday tournament last season, and was impressed with his skill and his physical play.
"Wisconsin sent me some information in the middle of last season, and after I contacted them, they've been calling me or e-mailing me about once a week," said Licari. "When I went down there, Mark Johnson helped arrange everything so I could talk to academic people and the strength coach and everybody."
Several things conspired to block Licari from being on the highest pinnacle of prospects. He chose to not participate in the top select programs of USA Hockey, where many colleges now scout future prospects. Also, East was unseated as Section 7AA champion by Cloquet and prevented from making what had become an annual state tournament trip last spring.
He makes a point of conceding that because he is short, some may have overlooked him. But those who have watched him are aware that he plays through people physically. As hard a worker off the ice as he is on it, the foes run into by the rock-solid Licari can attest to his strength. He bench-presses 240 pounds, and measures 400 pounds in squat-lifts.
He attended a USA Select camp, but they weren't for him. "I went to the Select 15 camp," he said. "It seemed like there were a lot of politics involved, and it wasn't that good of an experience for me. They put lines together, and they put some kids on the first line, but they didn't score. I was on the third line, and we scored a couple goals every game, but it seemed like everything was already set."
When it was time for the Select 16 team, he was contacted at a bad time. "It was my sophomore year, and we were going to the state tournament," Licari recalled. "The coach called and asked if I had sent in my application, right while I was packing to go to state. I said not yet, and he said, 'Are you busy?' I told him we were going to the state tournament, but he said to get it in."
He noted that players were kept from the coaches' areas, while better players seemed to be cut. So he didn't respond to future opportunities, choosing principle over politics.
As for scoring, the fact that Licari plays wing instead of center may have restricted him from having as many scoring opportunities. Which brings him back to this year's team.
"I was on the team as a big fourth-liner in eighth grade," said Licari. "That was the year we won the state. I think I got about four shifts in the tournament, when we were up by three and it was safe to put me in. But it was sweet, and besides, I had a front-row seat. I figured my time would come, and it's been close. Maybe this year.
"I'm playing on a line with Tommy Kolar at center and Nick Nelson on the other wing in captain's practices," said Licari. "We're really clicking, and we're really moving the puck well and scoring a lot. I think we've got the chance to make it back to the state tournament again, but obviously, Greenway will be tough. We've got a great group of guys, though. I look at my teammates and I think if you wanted to make the perfect hockey player, you'd take somebody with the skill of Tommy Kolar and the heart of Luke Stellmacher, or Nick Nelson, or Seth Amodio."
Typically, Licari doesn't include himself when he's listing the qualities of perfection -- even though nobody has worked with more dedication to achieve it.

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