Note: After this feature was published, Calderone decomitted from Princeton and is now committed to Michigan.
Tony Calderone entered the last game of the USHL’s regular season on April 13, 2013 with 28 goals. In the first period of play against the Omaha Lancers, he scored his 29th.
Late in the third period, the Stampede up 4-2 and Lancers with an empty net, the teams set up for a faceoff in Sioux Falls’ defensive zone.
Stampede coach Cary Eades put Calderone on the ice, and the forward pushed the puck to the neutral zone.
But he was taken down by a Lancer and no penalty was called, so the regular season ended — with Calderone one goal short.
“Tony was pretty, pretty upset about the [referee] not calling a penalty,” Eades says. “And not in a selfish way. He sets goals for himself and he wants to accomplish those things.”
Calderone, who will attend Princeton in the fall of 2014, ended the season fifth on the team in scoring with 44 points.
“I would say, [in] one word,” Calderone pauses when trying to describe his style of play. “Probably just tenacious, getting in stage [and] hard work.”
His 29 goals ranked second on the Stampede.
“He’s an absolute sniper,” teammate Conner Valesano says. “He makes things happen, he’s good in the defensive zone [and] he’s not afraid to block shots.
“In the offensive zone he can shoot from anywhere and make things happen. He sees the ice pretty well.
“If you want to get a goal scorer, Tony’s the guy to do it.”
The Way to Hockey
Calderone started playing hockey as a five-year-old because his dad put him on the ice. Calderone’s dad, an avid hockey fan, never had the chance to play because of the sport’s extensive cost.
Years later, Calderone says his dad is still the biggest influence in his hockey career.
“He’s pushed hard work through what he does, and everything he does has really affected my life and hockey life,” Calderone says.
Calderone remembers his first season of hockey, one he spent with the Trenton Yellow Jackets in Michigan.
“We won everything, we only lost [about] two games the full year, that was my very first year playing,” Calderone says.
“Hanging out with the guys, playing mini sticks in the hallways, those were the first memories of hockey.”
The 19-year-old has faced difficult seasons as well, naming shoulder injuries his toughest adversity. After dislocating his shoulder multiple times, Calderone had surgery and missed the 2010-11 season.
“I was out for six months and after that, [the] six months coming back and getting in shape was by far one of the hardest things I’ve done,” Calderone says.
“There was nothing I could do, I was going to be out of shape but I would just kind of stay active, go for walks [and] ride the bikes.”
In The Locker Room
Fellow Stampede R.J. Majkozak met Calderone for the first time at tryout camp in Minneapolis, Minn.
“I just noticed he had thighs for forearms,” Majkozak says laughing.
In the locker room, Majkozak says Calderone is a fan of placing water cups in shin pads — also known as leaners — so teammates grabbing their shin pads make their gear wet.
“He’s a prankster in the locker room,” Majkozak jokes. “[He’s] not really good with the pranks but he pulls them a lot.”
It happens, Calderone says, but rarely and only to relax his teammates.
“In the locker room I mean he’s not much of a prankster, I’m not going to lie that was kind of a joke,” Valesano says with a laugh. “He’s more of a serious guy in the locker room, always keeping things under control and if we’re off task he’ll let you know.
“He just keeps the locker room stable.”
Valesano first met Calderone at the counselor’s office in Roosevelt Public School, one of the two schools Sioux Falls players attend.
“He [was] kind of intimidating, he’s got a low voice he’s a pretty big guy,” Valesano laughs before echoing his teammate’s thoughts. “He’s got thighs for forearms.”
Valesano and Majkozak have played with Calderone since the 2012-13 season, when Sioux Falls made it to the second round of the playoffs.
“They’re all unbelievable. It’s so much fun just to be able to hang out with them everyday,” Calderone says.
“I’ve made lifelong friends with everyone, everyone’s gotten along so well and the coaching staff is unbelievable. They pushed us and we had a successful season last year.”
Leaners aside, Majkozak says Calderone is reserved before and during games.
“He’s pretty low-key guy,” Eades says. “He lets his play do the talking for him, yet he’s got kind of a witty, dry sense of humor as well.”
In Sioux Falls Blue
After Calderone failed to net his 30th goal in his rookie season, he responded by scoring Sioux Falls’ first goal of the 2013 playoffs. And he struck again in that game against Lincoln, netting the overtime winner.
“[The] best thing about having Tony as a teammate, yikes,” Valesano says as he thinks of Calderone’s attributes.
“He always brings a positive vibe and he can be a go-to guy if we’re down in the game.”
In addition to his game-winning goal, Calderone netted five points (3g, 2a) in the playoffs last season.
“[We] didn’t go all the way, but I mean it [was] still very fun and it was a learning experience,” Calderone says. “This year I think we’ve got a lot of potential too.”
Calderone made his way to Sioux Falls after the Stampede grabbed the forward with the first overall pick in the second phase of the 2012 USHL Draft.
“With that [comes] a lot of notoriety, a lot of expectations and I think he’s handled that very well,” Eades says.
“It’s kind of been a non-factor. He’s lived up to most of it and we’re definitely glad that we took him with that pick.”
After Calderone’s rookie USHL campaign ended, the 6-foot-0 forward worked on his skating ability in the offseason. Because of the extra work, Eades says Calderone’s speed has progressed.
“He’s improved his skating a lot, he’s good in the corners, protects the puck low and he’s also improved upon his defensive awareness and playing without the puck,” Eades says.
“He’s the guy that comes ready to improve each and every day. He takes his game seriously and he’s very dedicated.”
Through 14 games this season, Calderone has netted four goals and 10 points. It might not be close to last year’s pace, but Eades says the goals will follow soon.
“He’s got one of the heaviest shots I’ve seen and he’s a real sniper,” Eades says. “As he gets over the blue line he’s dangerous to score.”
Fulfilling a College Hockey Dream
As a Michigan native, Calderone lived around college hockey, watching Michigan and Michigan State play.
“Growing up, college hockey was definitely one of the goals that I would set for myself [and] I wanted to play someday,” Calderone says.
The in 2010, Calderone toured Princeton’s campus with his Victory Honda team.
“It was just unbelievable,” Calderone says. “This is a campus that [I] felt really lived up to the name.”
And in 2012, Calderone had the chance to verbally commit.
“There’s no doubt that’s where I wanted to go,” Calderone says.
“So [when] they gave the offer, I didn’t hesitate to take it.”
When Calderone moves to Princeton in 2014, he’ll join former Stampede teammate and current Tiger freshman Ryan Siiro.
“He [was] one of my good friends here in Sioux Falls and I’m looking forward to spending the next couple of years with him,” Calderone says.
“Living on your own, being with the guys and playing in front of the students. I think that’s going to be unbelievable.”
The 19-year-old will also join former Stampede Kyle Rankin, currently a sophomore with Princeton. Senior Alec Rush and undergraduate assistant coach Matt Farris also played in Sioux Falls.
“I think [Calderone] will be a good addition to Princeton’s roster and I wish him the best of luck,” Valesano says.
When Calderone comes to Princeton, it will be with his competitiveness and his ability to score goals — the characteristics that resonate most with Eades.
“There’s lots of guys that can play the game and you can teach to play defense, but he’s really got a great shot and [is] a threat to score. … There [aren’t] many players like that [who] can score with his heavy shot, so that’s a real asset,” Eades says.
“Princeton should be looking forward to having him.”