It all seems a bit surreal to Austin Poganski. Sure, he was second on his team in scoring as a sophomore in high school and his long-term goal is to play NCAA Division I hockey.
But his world has changed significantly since the end of last hockey season. Poganski, who is about to begin his junior year at Cathedral High School, was chosen to play for the Under-17 Team USA that competed in the Five Nations Tournament in Aug. 5-11 in the Czech Republic.
The Americans went 5-0 in games against the Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland and Slovakia. Poganski, a 6-foot-1 and 190-pound wing, had five goals and three assists.
The team was picked during a camp in Rochester, N.Y., in which there were 160 players competing for spots. Poganski was one of five Minnesotans picked to play for the national roster, which had 20 players.
"I don't know the words to describe how happy and how much joy there was," Poganski said. "I was really thankful to my family and all the coaches that helped me get there.
"It's always been a goal to represent the United States of America. When I saw my name on the USA jersey, it was the biggest joy in the world. You couldn't ask for anything more. The sport of hockey is something I love to play. I had good bumps and was in awe the whole time."
That reaction does not surprise Crusaders coach Eric Johnson. There were two camps that Poganski had to be selected out of to get to Rochester. First, there was a district camp and then the top 54 players were picked for a state camp. Then 20 players from the state were picked to advance to New York.
"He called me after the state camp and said that he didn't think he had a very good camp and that if he didn't make it to New York, it was his own fault," Johnson said. "I'm not sure if he was equating goals and points to success, because the coaches I was talking to were saying he looked great."
Once Poganski was selected to the Rochester camp, Johnson sat down with him and his parents to discuss his future. Johnson knew that the college recruiting of the forward was going to shift into high gear.
"I told him to make a list of five or six dream schools for when people start calling me," Johnson said. "He's going to be able to go wherever he wants. Selfishly, we're hoping it's somewhere close geographically."
Poganski, who has begun making recruiting visits to teams in the WCHA, said he is not leaning toward a school yet.
"My all-time goal is to play anywhere in college," he said.
Johnson said that Poganski turned down an oppotunity to play for the USA Development junior team that is based in Ann Arbor, Mich., to return to play for the Crusaders. But after experiencing success with the national team, Poganski made the decision to not play soccer this fall to concentrate on hockey.
He plans on playing for the same Great Plains team in the Elite League that plays in the fall with Cathedral teammates Austin Swingle, a defenseman, and linemate Will Hammer.
So how did the experience of playing for the national team change him as a player? Most of the changes are in his mental approach.
"It gives me a lot of confidence to be a leader on my high school team," Poganski said. "I think we're going to have a good year. All the guys are working out this summer and we're pumped to play."
Swingle, who was selected in the United States Hockey League junior draft by Indiana, has decided to return for his senior season with the Crusaders. With Swingle and Poganski turning down offers to play elsewhere, Johnson is excited for the season to start.
"We think (Poganski's) the real deal and he's a good kid, keeps the same demeanor all the time," Johnson said. "He didn't think it was time yet to leave home and maybe he feels like we have some unfinished business.
"We've got a good group of guys who are focused on the right things."