Mike Boback's path to pro hockey once took a bizarre turn. To obtain financial aid at Providence College, he had to accept a golf scholarship.
Then he had to prove to Providence golf coach Joe Prisco that he could play that game, too.
That he did, beating the school's No. 1 player by two strokes.
Despite the sojourn into golf, Boback eventually found his way to the American Hockey League. The rookie center, who was the Washington Capitals' 10th choice in the 1990 entry draft, is the Skipjacks' points leader with 40 (eight goals, 32 assists) as they play host to the Binghamton Rangers tonight at 7:35 at the Baltimore Arena.
In retrospect, it was a good thing Boback could play golf as well as hockey. He ventured into golf at the age of 13 in Mount Clemens, Mich., and as a high school sophomore finished 10th in the state prep championships with a 76.
In 1988, when Providence was wooing Boback, hockey coach Mike McShane asked him to accept a golf scholarship, opening up a hockey scholarship for an additional recruit.
"Prisco, the golf coach, didn't know about this until the deal was done," Boback said. "Then he wanted to see me play, so I went out with him and his No. 1 golfer."
After Boback outshot Prisco's best, 74-76, Prisco wanted Boback for his own. For the next six weeks, until mid-October, Boback's days began at 6:30 a.m. at the hockey rink. Then came four hours of classes and 18 holes of golf in the afternoon, which ideally should have been devoted to the second hockey workout of the day, followed by study hall.
"I slept well," Boback said. "But I didn't get to know some of my hockey teammates until October."
Boback has been productive the past week for the Skipjacks, collecting four goals and eight assists during the team's four-game winning streak, its longest in 13 months.
After Boback had a goal and three assists in one game last weekend, coach Barry Trotz said reminded him of Wayne Gretzky. Upon reflection, Trotz may want to withdraw the generous statement.
"Well, he's a playmaker like Gretzky," Trotz said. "He makes good passes because he has good hand skills and vision."
Boback, 22, is one of only three Skipjacks who have appeared in all 31 games, but he had to play hurt last month and wear a cast on his badly bruised left hand.
"I couldn't shoot well," said Boback. "I felt I was playing terrible and I know I wasn't shooting well. Now that my hand is 100 percent again, I hope I can score as well as pass."