Two years after shoulder surgery, Joey Sylvester is a top NAHL rookie defender now committed to D-I program

Former Cretin-Derham Hall skater Joey Sylvester sat out his entire sophomore season to have shoulder surgery. He then had a solid year with the Raiders in 2021-22 but is now spending his senior season in the NAHL, where he recently committed to the University of Wisconsin.

A hockey player wearing number eight warms-up for a hockey game while wearing a white jersey with green, black, and gray trim. The front of his jersey says 'Steel'.
Joey Sylvester warms-up before a game for the Chippewa Steel of the North American Hockey League. Sylvester, a Minnesota native and former defender for Cretin-Derham Hall, recently announced his commitment to play Division I hockey at the University of Wisconsin.
Contributed Photo. Heidi Christopher.

CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. — South St. Paul native Joey Sylvester currently leads his junior hockey team in points scored by a defenseman at only 17-years-old, but the road to that success has not been an easy one.

Sylvester suffered a shoulder injury during his freshman year of high school while playing at the bantam level. The injury was not a quick fix and it took the defenseman off the ice for nearly a year.

"It was a struggle ... My shoulder kept on popping out like every other game, so I called it quits in the middle of the year in bantams and I decided to get the surgery," Sylvester said.

The defender took the entire fall and winter seasons to rehab the injury and couldn't skate for eight months with the cast and sling he had to wear.

In fact, he didn't get back into the sport fully until around the 11th or 12th month after the procedure.


Getting back onto the ice was not easy but Sylvester said that the surgery was worth it in the long run.

A full year post-surgery, the defender suited up for Cretin-Derham Hall in his junior season. The Raiders went 24-5 in 2021-22 and made an appearance in the Class AA state tournament.

Although it took a little while for Sylvester to get used to the pace of play after being out for so long, he posted 19 points in 26 games that year.

At the end of the season, the 5-foot-8 skater made the decision to play his senior season in the North American Hockey League.

"I just had more opportunities jumping up to the NAHL. I'm getting a lot of playing time," he said.

A hockey player goes down on one knee to pose for a celebration while wearing a green jersey, green breezers, and green gloves.
Minnesota native Joey Sylvester plays for the Chippewa Steel in the North American Hockey League.
Contributed Photo. Heidi Christopher

The Minnesota native was already receiving interest from NCAA programs before joining the Chippewa Steel, but started to become more heavily recruited after participating in the NAHL Showcase.

"I'm a fast-moving offensive-defenseman who's good on breakouts and isn't afraid to get up in the play," says Sylvester on his strengths. "I have a lot of confidence and physicality to my game."

In mid-November, the skater announced his commitment to play at the Division I level for the University of Wisconsin.


"It was a no-brainer for me," he said on his decision. "Right when I stepped foot on campus I just fell in love with the place, and the coaching staff is unbelievable along with the history of the school and the atmosphere."

Staying close to home for college will also be a perk for the Minnesota native, who grew up in South St. Paul.

He will also be in familiar company at Wisconsin, as he knows fellow Badger commits Shawn Ramsey , William Whitelaw , and Finn Brink .

It will be fun for Sylvester, who grew up going to a couple of Minnesota Golden Gophers games, to play for the squad's rival team.

Making the move from high school to junior hockey takes a lot of work, but the change has panned out well for Sylvester as he currently leads all defensemen on his team in scoring with nine points in 17 games.

It will likely be a few years before the Minnesota native hits the ice for the Badgers, since he is only 17. He will continue to compete this season in Chippewa Falls for the Steel.

Sections 7A and 8AA both held their quarterfinal match-ups on Tuesday, while Section 7AA held their play-in game.

Sydney Wolf is a reporter for The Rink Live, primarily covering youth hockey. She joined the team in November of 2021 and graduated from St. Cloud State University with a B.S. in Mass Communications and a minor in Writing and Rhetoric Studies and was a part of the University Honors Program.
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