Stephen Suderman did not stand out from his high-school aged peers at Centre Virtual School orientation last week. The only hint of his athleticism was his 6-foot-4 height.
However, the slim, shaggy-haired 18-year-old is not a typical high-schooler — he is taking virtual school classes so he can spend his nights practicing and playing professional hockey. He was drafted and signed by the Palm Beach Hawks, an Eastern Junior Hockey League team in Palm Beach, Fla.
He will forego his senior year at Shawnee Mission East High School in Leawood to play for Palm Beach. While most 18-year-olds will be worried about finding a date to prom, Suderman will stare down lightning-quick skaters from Russia and Canada, who long to slam a 6-ounce piece of frozen rubber past his scrambling limbs.
“It’s going to be hard,” Suderman said.
Suderman is a goalie and therefore a crazy person. Hockey goaltending is high on the list of the most difficult tasks in sports. The job is the ying to an overwhelming yang — every player on the ice wants to score and it’s Suderman’s job to stop them.
“How would you like a job where, every time you make a mistake, a big red light comes on and 18,000 people boo,” Hall-of-Fame National Hockey League goalie Jacques Plante once said.
On top of the monumental task of stopping pucks shot at the speed of a major league fastball, Suderman will face other obstacles. He will be one of six goalies competing for playing time. He will be one of the youngest players on the team, competing against 20 to 26-year-old men earning a modest salary.
“They told us to come in in tip-top shape,” Suderman said.
Suderman also hails from an area of the U.S. not known for hockey. Suderman could not think of any NHL players from Kansas City; neither could the scouts and coaches of the Palm Beach Hawks.
“They laughed when I told them I was from Kansas City,” Suderman said.
Although he knows playing for the Hawks will be difficult, Suderman does not lack confidence on the ice; he was told by Palm Beach that he would be competing for the No. 1 goalie position immediately.
Scouts for the Hawks spotted the young goaltender at showcase — an event where players are asked to play in a structure-less game. Suderman arrived to the showcase late and rushed to get on the ice with little stretching. He still impressed scouts with his combination of pads-to-the-ice traditional butterfly and madcap scramble styles. His ability to handle the puck behind the net was another advantage over competing goalies.
“They called him over after the first period,” Suderman’s mom Susan said. “’Oh my God we have to sign this guy.’”
Suderman also boasted that he was the only goaltender in his AA traveling team league in Kansas City that did not allow a goal all season.
“It’s very nerve weracking in the last minute. You don’t want to do anything to let in a goal,” Suderman said of putting up a shutout.
Starting Aug. 17 with preseason training camp, Suderman will practice from 4 to 10 p.m. As an amateur he will not be privy to a salary.
He will take his virtual school classes during the day. The Sudermans heard about Centre’s virtual school program in an advertisement over the radio. They enrolled Suderman about two months before orientation. Susan did not want Stephen attending an unknown high school in Florida where he knew no one.
“The virtual school has been a lifesaver,” Susan said.
With the challenging transition from a Kansas City club team to junior hockey, Suderman will also be living in a city that he has never visited; he has never been outside of the Midwest. He will be staying with a billet family in Palm Beach, who will bill Susan and Curt Suderman in Leawood while Stephen stays in their home. He will be away from his family Suderman and his father are especially close.
“His dad is already going through withdrawal,” Susan said.
Suderman does not mind preparing for potential hardships in Palm Beach because he knows the situation will be well worth any tribulations.
With the Hawks, Suderman will have a nutritionist, trainer, and goaltending coach for the first time. He said playing junior hockey at 18 will help him get a scholarship to a Division 1 college or university, the next step in his dream of playing professional hockey.
Suderman started playing when he was 5 years old, when he was significantly than his current goalie equipment bag.
There are other advantages to the Hawks location, as well.
“I’m two minutes away from the beach,” the first thing Suderman mentioned in his excitement about south Florida.