Stephen Halliday had a lot of options.
He could have played in the Ontario Hockey League.
He had enough college options that he didn’t feel comfortable listing them.
So what finally led the top-end hockey prospect and No. 1 overall pick in the United States Hockey League Draft to commit to UND this week?
“It was the coaching staff and the visit,” said Halliday, who was in town on July 28. “I really connected with the staff. I liked how they laid everything out for me. The head coach was one of the main people talking to me. That was a big factor.”
And the coaching staff helped his parents become comfortable with the idea of Halliday (who grew up in Toronto and moved to Maryland at age 11) traveling West for college.
“They just wanted me to be in good hands,” Halliday said. “They liked the coaching staff a lot. They didn’t care which school. They cared about the people and the coaches. Ultimately, it was my choice. They supported me throughout the decision.”
The scouting report on Halliday is that he’s a 6-foot-3 (or 6-foot-4, depending on who you ask), 215-pound forward with high-end skill and possesses hockey smarts. He shoots left-handed and can play all three forward positions.
He’ll play in the USHL for Central Illinois this season. That’s a rarity for a 16-year-old, but Halliday proved he was ready by leading Central Illinois’ summer camp in scoring.
“When I first saw him on video, he reminded me of a young Joe Thornton,” said Central Illinois coach and general manager Mike Watt, who played at Michigan State and in the NHL for the Oilers, Islanders, Predators and Hurricanes. “He has that ability with his size, playmaking, vision and Hockey IQ, similar to Joe. That was one of the takeaways I saw.
“We feel like he’s ready to play at the USHL level. He showed that by leading our camp in scoring. Every time he was on the ice, he wanted to be a difference-maker. That’s rare at that age in our league.”
Halliday’s combination of size and skill has led him to being a coveted prospect.
Watt said “all the major colleges” were interested in Halliday, who was expected to be a first-round pick in the OHL Draft, but informed teams that he was going the college route. He instead dropped to the third round, where the Niagara IceDogs selected him.
Halliday doesn’t intend to report, though. He has chosen the college route, just like one of his friends and fellow 2002-born UND forward commit, Ethan Bowen.
“I think college is not only more fun,” Halliday said, “but I think it’s better for development to get to the next level.”
Watt said that Halliday projects as a top-end collegiate player who has already improved his skating this summer.
“His ceiling is extremely high,” Watt said. “He has that intangible with his size, but it’s worked in his favor. Usually, kids that big don’t have the coordination. Stephen has that. He has the Hockey IQ and touch with the puck. Some guys go through an awkward phase. I really haven’t seen that with Stephen, which is pretty uncanny for someone his size and age.”
The current plan is for him to play the next two years with Central Illinois Flying Aces, then come to campus in the fall of 2020.
“Hopefully, come in and play as a true freshman,” he said.
Halliday said he enjoyed seeing Ralph Engelstad Arena on his campus visit and is looking forward to it being his future home.
“The facility speaks for itself,” he said. “It’s probably the nicest one I’ve ever seen in my life.”