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At 15, Las Vegas-area hockey standout’s options abound

Matthew Gross took all the necessary steps to ensure that multiple doors would be open for the next phase of his blossoming hockey career.

The difficult part is choosing which one is right for him.

“I’m still deciding where I want to go,” said the 15-year-old from Las Vegas’ east side.

Gross is one of the nation’s top hockey players in his age group and faces an unusual dilemma compared with many of his peers in other sports.

In May, he was drafted by the Tri-City Storm of the United States Hockey League, which serves as the primary recruiting pipeline for the majority of Division I college hockey programs.

Gross’ rights also are owned by Prince Albert of the Western Hockey League, providing him another high-profile option. But that path through the Canadian major-junior system would make Gross ineligible to participate in the NCAA.

That’s why Gross is taking his time before he commits.

“I’m considering both,” he said. “I’m going to keep my options open for the NCAA, and the WHL is a really good option, too, with what they have to offer. They’re both really good. I’ll have to come down to a decision eventually.”

Gross is the latest in a growing number of elite hockey players with ties to the Las Vegas Valley, including Jason Zucker of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild and Golden Knights minor-leaguer Gage Quinney.

Gross started ice skating at age 3 after watching the defunct Las Vegas Wrangers of the ECHL and joined the Las Vegas Ice Cats — later the Junior Wranglers — club program when he was 5.

By the time Gross was a seventh-grader at Robison Middle School, he had broken the Plexiglas at Sobe Ice Arena with a slap shot and outgrew the local competition.

With dreams of a college scholarship serving as motivation, he stayed part time with a billet family in Phoenix as a 12-year-old and played for the Arizona Bobcats, the same program that helped produce Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews. Billet families provide housing to men pursuing hockey dreams away from home.

Gross has lived full time with a billet family since 2016, and his parents, John and Susan, visit most weekends. Matthew takes classes online through Connections Academy and recently completed his sophomore year of high school.

“I was one of those moms that said, ‘No way. My kid’s never going to move away until he’s 18,’ but you make sacrifices,” said Susan Gross, a teacher at Jerome Mack Middle School. “You could see his passion for it. … We kept bumping him up by years so he would play at an older division. But at a certain point, it became a need for him to sort of push himself.”

Gross participated in the 2017 CCM Invitational Hockey Tournament in Beijing , and this season he helped the Phoenix Junior Coyotes reach the quarterfinals of the USA Hockey Youth Tier I National Championship.

The 5-foot, 11-inch, 175-pound forward produced 14 goals and 22 points in 24 regular-season games for the Junior Coyotes in the under-15 Tier I Elite Hockey League.

Gross starred at the USA Hockey Pacific District Regionals in May at City National Arena and said he will play next season with the Junior Coyotes before deciding his next move.

This summer, Gross will attend training camps for both Prince Albert and Tri-City, which is owned by area resident Kirk Brooks and holds its camp in mid-June at Las Vegas Ice Center.

In addition to the USHL and WHL options, he could elect to play in the British Columbia Junior Hockey League to maintain his college eligibility.

Gross earned an invitation to the USA Hockey National Player Development Camp from July 7-13 at Amherst, New York, and is set to participate in Arizona State’s summer camp.

He said the Sun Devils, along with Wisconsin, are his top college choices at the moment.

“The long-term vision is probably like any other kid, the NHL. That would be the dream goal,” Gross said. “Playing for the Knights would be the biggest dream ever. That’d be the coolest thing ever. Insane. But if I could get a college scholarship, that’s what I’m looking for first.”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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