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Waterloo Black Hawks' Joey Cassetti battles for the puck with Dubuque Fighting Saints' Dalton Hunter during a game last spring. 

WATERLOO -- The more Joey Cassetti plays hockey, the further East he goes.

In fact, Cassetti's next stop in his hockey journey will take him 3,101 miles from his home in Pleasanton, Calif.

When the 6-foot-3, 196-pound power forward wraps up his second season with the Waterloo Black Hawks this spring, his next stop en route to hopeful pro career will be at Merrimack College in Andover, Mass.

"I love the Boston area," Cassetti said. "Last year, they reached out to me after a game in Madison, and we set up a visit for the summer. I really liked it. It's a really good spot for me."

Cassetti's journey is not unusual to the typical United States Hockey League player. Nearly every single USHL player leaves their home, some as young as 16, to play junior hockey and hopefully advance onto collegiate and professional careers.

What makes Cassetti's different is he is just one of 14 native Californian's out of nearly 400 USHL players.

"There is a surprisingly a lot of youth leagues considering the fact it is California and it is not a hockey hot spot," Cassetti said.

Beginning with the Tri-Valley Blue Devils youth organization in the Pleasanton area, Cassetti gradually kept on moving up the ladder first with the San Jose Jr. Sharks AA and AAA clubs beginning when he was 12, and eventually making his first move East to the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies in suburban Detroit.

That led to a two-year stint with the United States National Development Team.

"I first started taking hockey more seriously when I was with San Jose and we went to a big U12 International Tournament in Quebec," Cassetti said. "I was playing against the highest level of competition at my age. That really opened my eyes. I saw how good the other kids weree and that kind of inspired me, motivated me."

Cassetti doesn't get home much, living the past two summers with his billiet parents from the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies, Terry and Leanne Bishop, primarily because ice time is not abundant in California,

"I live with the Bishops in the summer, because it is easier to find ice time," Cassetti explained. "That is something I have to sacrifice in order to develop as a player.

"I do get home when I can. My parents (Rob and Kim) are awesome, and I know it is hard for them. But I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing without them. Especially my mom, she is the one who kept me in it. 

"She drove me 40 minutes to San Jose from my hometown three or four times a week, sometimes it would be five in the morning and other times 11 at night."

Cassetti spent two seasons with the USNDT, appearing in 42 games, only 14 during his second season that was shortened by a knee injury. He was acquired in the off-season by the Black Hawks in the spring of 2017, and once fully recovered from the knee injury has been a valuable contributor.

He had eight goals and 10 assists playing alongside Garrett Klee and Evan Dougherty last season, and has 15 goals and 14 assists in 51 games this year while being one of Waterloo's leaders in minutes played.

"He has earned that right," Black Hawks head coach P.K. O'Handley said. "Earned that respect from the coaching staff. I think he is starting to understand what it takes day to day, and I think you are starting to see what he can become."

While he is excited about his future endeavors, Cassetti said his focus remains on helping what he believes is the best team in the USHL attain its goals. In order to help, Cassetti knows what he needs to do.

"Just simple hockey," Cassetti said. "Coach (O'Handley) is always telling us to keep it simple and you will find success. That is really true. He is never wrong. I think when I'm playing my best, I'm a big kid, I'm playing physical, getting at least four or five shots a game and making plays."

Waterloo, tied for second in the USHL West with Sioux Falls,  is at Fargo Saturday 

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for The Courier

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