Several years ago, Daniel Lebedeff, his family and an adviser began looking into areas of the United States in hopes of finding young Daniel a spot where he’d have a chance to play hockey and earn a college scholarship.
After some studying from home in Helsinki, Finland, they believed Wisconsin would be one of the top options.
So Lebedeff came to Wisconsin three years ago. And if all goes according to plan, he won’t be leaving anytime soon.
Lebedeff spent the past two years playing junior hockey in Madison, is currently enjoying a successful North American Hockey League season in Janesville and has signed his national letter of intent to join the Wisconsin Badgers next season.
“We were talking, when I was 16 in Finland, that maybe the college route would be best for me,” Lebedeff said. “In Finland, we usually play hockey, but the school part goes to the side. A lot of my friends are already playing pro.
“I wanted to get a little backup plan.”
Lebedeff, who first committed to the Badgers more than a year ago, spent parts of the past two seasons with the Madison Capitols of the USHL but was looking to change things up this year.
It appeared he’d be headed to the NAHL’s franchise in Shreveport, Louisiana, but Jets coach Gary Shuchuk got in touch with Lebedeff on the eve of the season to see if he’d be interested in playing for the Jets.
“It was a great opportunity to get coached by Shuchuk, who has been a college coach and NHL player,” Lebedeff said. “It was a good choice.
“One of the nice parts here is that people in town know what the Jets are. In Madison, we were kind of covered up by the Badgers. The crowd is loud and it’s fun to play in front of them.”
Playing in close proximity to Madison has also allowed the Badgers to keep tabs on him.
It’s been a bit of a roller coaster-type season for Lebedeff in Janesville, mostly because of concussion issues.
When he’s been in the lineup, though, Lebedeff has been solid. He’s played in 20 games and ranks eighth in the NAHL in save percentage (.925) and is just outside the top 10 in goals against.
The Helsinki, Finland, native was named the Midwest Division’s player of the week Monday after stopping 58 of 59 shots over two games against Fairbanks and Springfield last weekend.
“Daniel was very focused and was solid this weekend. He gave us a chance to win on Friday, but we came up short in the shootout. He came back on Saturday and continued his strong play with a shutout,” Shuchuk said. “Both nights, he controlled his rebounds and played big in the net. He’s been stellar in goal the past month.”
“It’s nice to get back-to-back games to get in a rhythm. I think it’s easier to play when you play more,” Lebedeff said. “Since I’ve came back from the concussions, the team has been positive to me and I think I’ve been playing pretty well.
“I think we’re in a good position right now, as a team.”
The Jets are 25-9-2-1 and remain in second place in the division heading into a weekend homestand. They host Kenai River on Friday and Coulee Region on Saturday.
In the final two months of the regular season, Lebedeff hopes to be able to continue to showcase consistent play between the pipes. And he hopes he can help lead the Jets—who have made the Robertson Cup semifinals two of the past three years—to their first league title.
Then, when his Janesville run is complete, he’ll be Kohl Center-bound.
“Wisconsin is my second home,” Lebedeff said. “This is my third year here, and I’ll be here the next four years, too. I like it and wouldn’t change it for anything else.”