Monday, July 8, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Zach Pochiro has always been a part of a small group of hockey players in Las Vegas. Now he’s a part of a more selective fraternity.
Pochiro last week became just the second Las Vegas player to be drafted into the NHL when the St. Louis Blues traded up to take him in the fourth round with the 112th overall pick.
Pochiro joined Jason Zucker, currently with the Minnesota Wild, as the only Las Vegans drafted by NHL teams.
Because of Las Vegas’ lack of hockey playing prospects, Pochiro traveled as a youngster around the country finding better competition. Others were shocked hockey was played in the desert of Southern Nevada.
“(People would) ask where I was from, and they’d look at me like they’ve seen a ghost,” Pochiro said.
In 2012-13, Pochiro played for the Prince George Cougars in the Western Hockey League, one of the top junior leagues in North America. He scored 15 goals and had 24 assists in 65 games. He also accrued 105 penalty minutes.
“I ended up the year really strong in Canada,” Pochiro said. “Being an American in a Canadian league, they look at you different. You have to prove yourself in a way.”
His stint in the WHL was the third consecutive year that Pochiro played away from Las Vegas, having spent time in Los Angeles in 2010-11 and Wichita Falls, Texas, in 2011-12 — both while he was still in high school.
While the average high school student was looking for work at a restaurant or grocery store, Pochiro was being paid to play hockey away from home.
“It was hard,” he said. “You have to travel, miss school and all that stuff. You have to balance schoolwork and be an athlete in a way. It was also hard because I’m not with my parents. You had to grow up.”
Pochiro is weighing his options for what he will do next, though a return to the WHL is possible.
During the offseason, Pochiro plans on staying in shape in anticipation for next season.
Pochiro said his primary focus will be to add weight to his 6-foot-1 frame — he weighs 161 pounds — but understands it isn’t the only thing he’ll need to improve on.
“I’m a little underweight,” he said. “I’m going to keep doing what I have to do, and hopefully, everything goes as planned.”