If you asked incoming Ohio State freshman C.J. Regula if he would have been on the Buckeyes roster as a D two years ago, he might have looked at you sideways.
That’s because Regula was a forward in the NAHL for the Minnesota Wilderness.
He played some defense prior to high school hockey at Cranbrook Kingswood in Michigan, but it was never something that stuck for the 6-foot-3, 3.5-star former forward.
In the NAHL, he was pushed into D for one weekend when he was with Wichita in 2017. But it wasn’t until last summer, when a phone call from an old coach who was now with the Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL), coerced him into playing the position full time.
Fast forward one year, and he earned a spot on an NCAA roster and is heading into his first season in Columbus …
NZ: How did you start playing hockey?
Regula: “I don’t have anyone in my family or anything like that who played hockey. The closest thing was my dad worked for the (Detroit) Red Wings for 30 years. He was the dentist for the Wings, so I was always around hockey. He put me on skates when I was two or three, and I just loved it. I started hockey around four. I loved it, so I couldn’t stop.”
NZ: What’s your favorite memory of playing hockey so far?
Regula: “Probably in 2015, my brother and I won the state championship together in high school. That was a cool thing for me.”
NZ: Can you take us through your NCAA recruiting process? What other schools were you talking to? Were there any ups and downs? What made you decide on Ohio State?
Regula: “So I started in Muskegon and I was fortunate enough to play in a showcase and that created some buzz for me. Then I ended up getting cut and went down to Minnesota and there I was having a good year. At Minnesota I talked to two teams. Then I got traded to Shreveport and I kept playing well and that’s when teams started to call me. Ohio State was one of those teams and they left me a voicemail to say they were interested.
“A few months went by and they would check in every once in a while. Then I just kept playing well. I didn’t have slumps in my game. Then I took a visit on campus and visited and once I was on campus, it was pretty easy for me. They have everything I would ever want. “
NZ: You mentioned how you bounced around a little bit last year. How did you bounce back from all that movement? Getting cut and traded?
Regula: “I’ve played on five junior teams in my career. I’ve looked at all of those opportunities as a fresh start. It all ended up working out. No hard feelings anywhere, it’s part of the game. After (last year) I switched from forward to defense.
“I started as a D this year in Muskegon. I was doing well with it, but there was a learning curve. The USHL has less room for error, so that transition was hard. So I got cut, and I get it, no hard feelings. There are only so many overage spots available, and I get that. Then when I went back to Minnesota I felt like I was playing well there and everything started to click. The learning curve went away and it started to feel right playing D. It was nice. Minnesota was willing to let me come back as a D because I was a forward there before.”
NZ: What’s the story behind the position switch?
Regula: “I played forward in high school. In Wichita Falls I played forward but we knew the team was folding, and because of that we couldn’t bring in any more players at one point. So one weekend, one of our D was suspended, one got sick, and then another got sick so we were down three D for one weekend. Our coach at the time came into the locker room and asked us all who wanted to play some D?
“He asked if anyone had played D before because we only had three D for the game. I raised my hand, because I played a little D before high school. So I got put there. I actually, that weekend, I played really well. I made it onto the power play that weekend, had a few points, so it went well. It was funny. Then everyone came back and I went back to playing forward. I played forward the following year and then in the summer of 2018 from the coach I had in Wichita. After that team folded he became the D coach in Muskegon. He called me — we haven’t talked in two years — but he called me and asked if I wanted to go to camp and try out as a defenseman? He talked me into it. I was hesitant at first. But he said I didn’t have to pay for camp and it was a two-hour drive, so why not? So I went out to camp and played well.