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Apr. 8—Ty Emberson said there wasn't a single moment that let him know he was ready to jump to the National Hockey League level. Instead, it was the culmination of a successful junior campaign. He felt himself playing with more confidence, taking on a major leadership role and making the necessary little plays to help the Wisconsin Badgers succeed.
Then, when the season came to an end in late March, the Eau Claire native began consulting those he trusted.
"I talked to a lot of people personally that knew me and hockey-wise knew me," Emberson said on a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday night. "I think a lot of the decision was just on me, based on my feelings of the type of player that I am and the ability of my hockey skillset, me wanting to push myself to see if I can do it at the next level."
In the end, the pros outweighed the cons, even if it meant walking away from a group of teammates he'd grown close to, the college experience as a whole and, for a little bit, finishing out his degree. Emberson signed an entry-level deal with the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday, kickstarting his professional career and ending his time in Madison after three seasons.
"I'm very excited," Emberson said. "It's a step that I've wanted to make for a while now, and I felt like I was ready this year. Obviously it's a big step in my life and my career but I'm just excited to get to work."
That work will have to wait a couple days. Emberson has reported to the Coyotes' American Hockey League affiliate, the Tucson Roadrunners, but must remain in quarantine for three days to make sure he's free of COVID-19. He did his conference call from a Tucson hotel room, his home for the time being.
Emberson said the Coyotes, currently slotted fourth in the West Division, are looking to keep their roster intact as they make a playoff push. Thus, he's starting off in the minors.
"They said, 'I'm not going to guarantee you anything right now,'" Emberson said. "'You're going to start in Tucson, develop there. It's a great place, really good coaching staff there.' Tucson has a really good team this year, so that's where I'll start and that's where I'll try to prove myself."
Emberson was drafted in the third round, 73rd overall, by the Coyotes in in the 2018 NHL draft.
"We are very pleased to sign Ty to an entry-level contract," Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong said in a statement Wednesday. "Ty is a good two-way defenseman who can play in all situations. He is another good prospect for us, and we look forward to monitoring his development."
Helping Emberson's confidence in the move is the tutelage he's received at Wisconsin, particularly from Badgers associate head coach Mark Osiecki.
"Mark Osiecki is the reason I went to Wisconsin," Emberson said. "And he's the reason I wanted to stay that extra year, just to develop under his watch. He breeds NHL defensemen. ... I talked to Jake McCabe about that. He's like, 'If Mark Osiecki is there, you've got to go to Wisconsin.' Day in and day out, watching video, on the ice, off the ice, getting puck touches before practice and after practice. The way that he carries himself and the way that he breeds NHL defensemen is like no other."
Emberson played two seasons with Eau Claire Memorial before leaving the local prep scene for the U.S. National Team Development Program for the 2016-17 campaign. He then played two seasons with the USNTDP before heading to Madison.
"From the player I was the sophomore year of high school to the player that I am today, I've grown a lot," Emberson said. "Maturity-wise, just understanding the game, being able to manage the game, having the poise to make the right play under pressure. When I was younger I just kind of skated out of the zone as fast as possible because I was a little bigger, faster than some people. Now it's more about being smarter than your opponent, finding ways to outsmart them. At this level there are a lot of guys that are bigger and stronger than me."
Emberson led the Badgers with a plus-15 this season, putting up four goals and nine assists while earning a nomination for the Big Ten's defensive player of the year honor. He was an All-Big Ten Tournament team member and an All-Big Ten honorable mention in his final collegiate year. Over his Wisconsin career, he had nine goals and 25 assists in 101 games.
He'll be remembered in Madison for being the captain when the team returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 and secured its first conference regular season title since 2000.
"It meant everything to me," Emberson said of wearing the C. "I grew up wanting to play college hockey and wanting to be a leader. Wherever I go, it's something that I've humbled myself on and prided myself on, being someone that people can look up to in the locker room and just follow in my footsteps, being the type of player that people want to emulate. It meant everything to me this year. I came back to Wisconsin not looking to turn the ship around, but to improve on the things that we struggled with my freshman and sophomore year. This year I had the power to do that and I had the supporting cast that helped me every step of the way."