Some young hockey players have trouble finding their true identity on the ice, but that isn't the case for Cedar Rapids RoughRiders forward Erik Foley, who knows where his true strength lies.
The Mansfield, Mass. native, who is transitioning nicely from prep school hockey to the USHL, showed he can compete with the best of his draft class on Thursday night at the USA Hockey CCM All-American Prospects Game.
"I thought I had a good game. It was a lot of fun playing against a bunch of my buddies," said Foley. "It's definitely the size of the guys, playing against much bigger guys. The speed of the game, you have to get shots off quick," added the former Tabor star on the big difference between prep hockey and the USHL.
Foley isn't the most skilled player on the ice, but he is a prototypical power forward that can dominate along the boards, dish out the puck and finish strong as well.
"I'm definitely a guy who has to work down low. I'm not really a skilled guy. I work below the goal line. That's where my bread and butter is. I like grinding down low and getting pucks out in front," said Foley.
"He's very athletic and tough. He has excellent strength and balance. Erik is one of those players who is incredibly difficult to knock off the puck and he's really good on the wall, especially from the dots down in the offensive zone," said Tabor Academy coach Gerry Dineen.
One thing that scouts will notice the more they watch Foley play is his deceptive speed, his offensive instincts and his heavy shot despite his lack of elite hands and footwork that say a Jack Eichel or Jeremy Bracco exhibit.
"He has been able to finish at every level. He has a pro release on his shot. The sky is the limit," said Dineen of his former player.
"I think my speed and my strength is one of my big assets of my game," added Foley.
As is the case with many players transitioning from prep or high school hockey to juniors, there will be somewhat of a learning curve as Foley learns how to play in all three zones. "I'm definitely trying to work on my defense in the defensive zone," said Foley.
Helping him with that learning curve will be longtime Cedar Rapids coach Mark Carlson, who is known as one of the most demanding bench bosses in junior hockey.
"He's real tough. He's an intense guy, but I wouldn't want it any other way. At the end of the day it will make me better. He's a great guy and a great coach," said Foley.
As Foley concentrates on the RoughRiders' success in the USHL as well as preparing for the NHL Draft, he'll also have an eye on the future towards Providence College, his destination for next season.
"It's right down the street from my house," explained Foley of the short drive down 95 South. "I grew up going to Providence games as a kid. I really like Nate Leaman as a coach. I think they have a good thing going down there. It was a pretty easy decision for me."
Foley also likes the prospect of joining a Providence program that has started to flourish under Leaman, who is beginning his fourth season guiding the Friars.
"It's an honor to go into a program that struggled at first, but then I get to go be a part of something big. They're on the uprise," said Foley.
Foley is a well-spoken, bright player who NHL teams will enjoy getting to know during the draft process that will culminate at the NHL Draft Combine next Spring.
"Best of all, he's a super kid. He's very humble and grounded. His teammates and classmates love him," said Dineen.
Foley had three goals and two assists in seven preseason games, including a goal and an assist in the first game of the USHL Atlantic Challenge against Lincoln. He had an assist in the team's regular season opener on Friday night. Foley and the RoughRiders will return to the ice next weekend for a two-game home series against the Muskegon Lumberjacks.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.