LODNIA'S JOURNEY TO THE AHLApr 5, 2018
By Tom Witosky | Follow @toskyAHLWild
When 18-year-old Ivan Lodnia stepped onto the ice for his first American Hockey League game, Iowa Wild head coach Derek Lalonde watched closely to see just how far along the teenager had come.
But Lalonde wasn’t watching necessarily for how well Minnesota’s 2017 third round draft choice shot the puck or skated as he tested himself in a level of competition just a step away from the National Hockey League.
“The biggest thing is how well did he fit in, how strong was his compete level, where was his level of engagement,” Lalonde said.
Lodnia skated with veteran center Pat Cannone and forward Colton Beck in a back-to-back against the Tucson Roadrunners, a contender for this year’s Calder Cup. He failed to register a shot on goal, much less an assist or a goal, but Lalonde liked what he saw nonetheless.
“It was pretty clear he was fearless and that was a good sign,” Lalonde said. “He showed more confidence in making plays as the weekend went on.”
For Lodnia, the poise and tenacity he displayed is likely the direct result of his upbringing by his family, who risked everything to immigrate to the United States from Ukraine with about $100 to their name.
Konstatin and Irina Lodnia arrived in California in 1996 along with their daughter, Masha. Ivan, who prefers to be called Vanya, would enter the world three years later.
Konstatin Lodnia, a former professional hockey player, decided the best way to make a living to support his family was to do what he knew best – teach hockey. Over the next decade, Konstatin spent his days and evenings teaching hockey either by coaching or through private lessons.
As Vayna grew, so did his love for hockey. Eventually, his parents decided to purchase an ice rink in Anaheim – both to develop their own business, but also to give the youngest Lodnia a place to practice and play whenever he wanted.
“I was there all the time,” Vanya recalled. “It was great because anytime I wanted to play or work on something I had a place to go.”
But Lodnia also conceded he missed out on developing one skill – operating a Zamboni. “I never got the chance to learn,” he said with a smile.
As Lodnia’s hockey skills became apparent, his parents decided to move the family, except for Masha, to the Midwest to expose their son to higher levels of competition in youth hockey and to get him noticed by scouts. Settling in Detroit, Lodnia played for two elite youth programs, Belle Tire Bantams and Honeybaked U16, where he collected points at a rate of more than one per game.
His ability to score and play defense caught the attention of the scouts in the Ontario Hockey League and resulted in Lodnia playing two full seasons with the Erie Otters. With the Otters, Lodnia has collected 116 points in 128 games.
That was when the family found themselves realizing the dream they had worked so hard to achieve – getting Vanya drafted by an NHL team.
Lodnia said he had talked with Minnesota’s front office prior to the draft and knew about their interest.
“I was hoping they would draft me and thought they would,” he said. “But when you hear your name and you’re with your parents, it really is something special.”
Lodnia gives most of the credit for his success so far to his father.
“Over the years, I learned the most from my father,” Lodnia said. “He really taught me everything I know on and off the ice. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be here today.”
With his arrival in Des Moines to end the season, Lodnia’s goal is to test not only his skills and physical ability, but also to get a better understanding of the mental aspects of the professional game.
“It is a faster game for sure, and it’s played harder and much more competitively,” Lodnia said. “It just has a different feel when you are playing with older guys.”
Lalonde said that Lodnia’s skill and confidence on the ice has been impressive.
“His skill level, his vision and his hockey sense are his strengths,” Lalonde said. “He has found a good way to compete to compliment that skill set.”
Could Lodnia stick with the AHL Wild next season? Lalonde isn’t sure.
“I don’t know,” he said, but wouldn’t rule it out. “The reality is that we don’t have a huge volume of prospects because we haven’t had a lot of draft picks, I think everyone will get an opportunity next year.”
Lalonde also pointed out Lodnia’s situation is similar to rookie defenseman Brennan Menell, who came out of nowhere in training camp and played the entire season with Iowa.
“We gave Menell every chance to make the team and he did,” Lalonde said. “We will just have to see.”
As for his chances, Lodnia said it is too early to know. He plans to spend the summer months improving his size and strength.
“I don’t know. I can’t answer it, because it will be up to the coaches. I will just do the best I can on and off the ice,” he said.