Florida Panthers

Miami’s Randy Hernandez ready for another run with Team USA hockey

Randy Hernandez, center, lines up for a USA hockey game last season.
Randy Hernandez, center, lines up for a USA hockey game last season. USA Hockey

Randy Hernandez has rarely had a problem putting a puck in the back of the net.

Playing for the Florida Alliance midget team, he scored 53 goals in 54 games. As a sophomore at Miami's Sunset High playing on the Dade County team in the Florida high school scholastic league, Hernandez average more than a goal per game.

His speed and scoring prowess got Hernandez noticed nationally and he earned a spot with the United States National Developmental under-17 team.

Hernandez left his Miami home for the first time and moved to Michigan.

Not only was there a culture shock -- he told the Herald's Michelle Kaufman last year he missed his café con leche and pan con queso crema -- but the jump up in competition was a big one.

In 56 games with the U.S. National under-17 team, Hernandez had eight goals with seven assists.

Playing against older players with more experience in higher-level programs, Hernandez found himself adjusting to more than just the Michigan winters.

"It was a huge jump, everything was difference and it was something I was forced to get used to" Hernandez said last week before leaving for Michigan.

"I feel a lot more stronger going in this year, our team has a lot of chemistry going. Hopefully we can get going, start off fast. I'm looking forward to it."

Hernandez spent a big chunk of his summer working with former NHL players Olli Jokinen, Radek Dvorak and Tomas Vokoun at the South Florida Hockey Academy run out of Broward's Glacier Ice in Lighthouse Point.

Hernandez left quite an impression not only on his coaches but on players who took part in the workouts as well.

"He's kept some of the pro guys in check,'' said former Florida defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who was traded to Vancouver in June.

"I'm very impressed by him, he has one hell of a stride. He can take off with the best of them. If he just bears down, uses his speed a little more, I think he can be a dominant player. Sometimes he slows things down and that puts himself in a little trouble. But when he speeds it up, he has me on my heels. He's an excellent young talent.''

Added Jokinen: "He's not just a great talent, but most importantly, he's a great kid. He's here to work and to learn. We're not the ones who can take any credit for him. He's does so much on his own, but his former coaches did a great job. He's a special talent and it's great to see that down here. He's a great example that hockey players can make it out of South Florida and become a high-level player."

This is going to be a big year for Hernandez as he completes his senior year at Pioneer High in Ann Arbor.

Hernandez is NHL draft eligible and has a number of top college programs have shown interest including Maine, Providence and the Miami based in Ohio.

If he decides to forgo college and play major-junior hockey in Canada, that will be an option as well. Last year, Hernandez was drafted in the 13th round by Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

"I'm keeping my options open," he said. "I feel some pressure but I feel a lot more confident going into this season."

Although there are growing numbers of hockey players drafted out of South Florida, Hernandez could be the highest-drafted Miami native to go.

Hernandez takes pride in his Miami and Cuban roots and says he feels lucky he grew up just minutes from the Kendall rink.

"I was able to be on the rink every day, practicing, getting better," he said. "That has helped me get where I am now."

His story is a good one. When he was 6, he went to a cousin's birthday party and put on skates for the first time. He took to the ice naturally, and was noticed by a coach at Kendall.

Soon, Hernandez was signed up for skating lessons. Hockey came next.

Now he's living in hockey country.

"I'm super excited, can't wait to get back," he said, adding that wasn't always the case.

"When I first got up there, I didn't like it all to be honest. I was freezing. I would have three sweaters on every day. But other than that, I love it. Ann Arbor is a nice small town, very nice people. It's a college town. I like my high school, my teammates and I all go there. It has been a great experience so far.

"But I'm definitely proud of where I'm from."