Sam Lafferty had been there for many of the firsts at Galactic Ice in Altoona.
The first practices, the first games, the first Mid-State Mustangs national championships and many in between.
Now he is one of the firsts - Lafferty, a Hollidaysburg native, became the first NHL draftee to come out of Galactic Ice when the hometown Pittsburgh Penguins called his name in the fourth round with the 113th overall pick.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Hollidaysburg native Sam Lafferty holds a Penguins jersey after being selected by Pittsburgh in the fourth round.
"It's pretty amazing," Lafferty said. "I don't think it's set in yet. It's just a pretty surreal feeling. A dream come true."
Lafferty and his family expected a 50-50 chance of getting selected in the weekend's draft, but figured it wouldn't come until the fifth, sixth or seventh rounds. They figured so much so that Lafferty wasn't even watching the draft when he got picked.
He was en route to his father's house, which has the NHL Network on the family's DirecTV package, and got a call from his family advisor saying congratulations.
"I really had no idea," Lafferty, who was in the car driving at the time, said. "I didn't see anything, congratulations on what?' And he told me the news. I was just pretty ecstatic. Got on my dad's porch and gave him a big hug and my brother a hug. It was pretty special."
The forward, a product of the Deerfield Academy, played his youth hockey for the Altoona Trackers, Mid-State Mustangs and Hollidaysburg Area High School program. Lafferty spent several high school seasons with Hollidaysburg before transferring to Deerfield, a common move to help drive up the stock of many hockey players. (Former Penguins player Ben LoveJoy played there.)
With Deerfield, he tallied 55 points in 25 games and gained the attention of various colleges and junior leagues around North America.
Lafferty is committed to play college hockey at Brown University after he spends a season in the United States Hockey League, playing for the Tri-City Storm.
Unlike the NFL or NBA drafts, it will be several years before the picks play in the team's organization. Pittsburgh, which was Lafferty's favorite team growing up, will own his rights until after he leaves Brown, which could be anywhere from two to five years from now.
"I don't think I could have dreamt it turning out any better honestly," he said. "I've been a Penguins fans since I've been a little kid and that's the reason I wanted to start skating. It's just an amazing feeling."
Lafferty said his strongest assets of his game are his skating ability and hockey sense, but there's still a lot of work to be done before he gets ready for the pro level.
"I'm trying to get stronger, bigger and faster and all of those things," Lafferty said. "I'm just trying to get the best at my game to get ready."
The pick used was just the second Penguins pick of the draft. Dave Weaver, Lafferty's step-father and coach throughout the years, figured it would happen in the fifth round so he was out getting a hair cut during the early morning. The call took him by surprise.
"I was watching it on my phone, and I was actually getting a haircut," Weaver said. "Sam called and said that his family adviser called and said he had just gotten taken in the fourth round. I was obviously excited to find out. To find out it was the Penguins was more exciting, being the fact that he had grown up just loving the Penguins."
For Weaver and Lafferty though, it's a testament to how much local hockey has grown, especially at Galactic Ice.
"For us at Galactic Ice, who have been pounding at this to have anybody get drafted is an incredible accomplishment for Galactic Ice and the rink," Weaver said. "The fact that it is Sam is really nice for me. I've seen how hard he's worked over the years to get to where he is, how dedicated he is his hard work has really paid off."
In 15 years of operations, Lafferty is the first from Galactic Ice, but he has hopes that one day more will follow the same footsteps of his achievement.
"The hours that (spent by) so many coaches, parents, owners and players has really developed the game," he said. "I think it shows that no matter where you are from as long as you have opportunity and the support of a lot of people, and you put in the work, you can accomplish what you want to."