Mark Friedman came to Bowling Green with high expectations.
Expectations so high, it might have been impossible for the defenseman to live up to the hype.
But with just 12 games remaining in the regular season, he’s fashioned an excellent first campaign with the Falcons.
He’s totaled two goals and 12 assists, and an on-ice rating of plus-5 in 24 games. He skates and on the power-play and penalty-killing units, and is on the ice late in games, whether the Falcons are ahead or behind.
He’s had an on-ice rating of even or better in 19 of BG’s 24 games.
“My game has come along,” Friedman said. “The beginning of the season was an adjustment — the speed of the game, the quickness of the game, and the size and strength of the players. It definitely was an adjustment and my defense still needs to improve. I’m trying to have good offense and good defense.”
Friedman received plenty of attention during his junior hockey career, and the hype soared in June when the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers selected the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder in the third round/78th overall.
He became the first draft pick to play for BG since the 2010-11 season and was the highest-drafted recruit among Western Collegiate Hockey Association schools.
“I take it day by day,” Friedman said. “I don’t worry about what I’m doing tomorrow or what I did yesterday. I just worry about today. I’ll worry about the other stuff when it gets here. If it comes sooner than later, fine.
“All I’m worried about is BG. I’ve always had high expectations for myself and the expectations have always been there for me.”
Friedman, who committed to BG when he was only 15 years old, began his college hockey when he was just 18. He turned 19 on Christmas Day.
“He’s definitely growing into the expectations,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “I’m probably the biggest culprit of putting too much on Mark. He’s still growing up. He’s still trying to figure things out. I may have painted him out to be something that wasn’t fair.
“What he is doing now is understanding the level,” Bergeron added. “He’s understanding the speed of the game. He’s understanding he has to play defense. Once he does that, his offense takes over. He’s getting more (accustomed) to this level, on the ice and off. You’re seeing the results of that.”
Friedman said he’s felt comfortable since arriving at BG in August. He worked out during the summer in Toronto to prepare for the season.
“College hockey is an NHL game. Junior hockey is all offense,” Friedman said. “If I want to go further in my career, I have to work on my defense. Even though there was an adjustment period, I still felt good.”
Friedman elected to play college hockey, instead of playing in the Major A Ontario Hockey League.
He committed to BG early, in part, because his midget coach, Bobby Marshall, is a good friend of Bergeron. Marshall and Bergeron were teammates at Miami from 1990-93.
“When I visited BG, I had a great connection with the guys,” Friedman said. “It was a program I could make better. I liked the school, the community.”
Friedman elected to play college hockey, instead of going to the Major A level and skating in the Ontario Hockey League
“I wanted to further my schooling and get an education,” said Friedman, who has a 3.0 grade-point average in sport management with a minor in entrepreneurship. “You can’t play hockey all your life, so you need something to fall back on. School was the best option for me.
“In college hockey, you’re playing against 19-, 20-, 21-, 22-year-old guys,” Friedman added. “In the OHL, you’re playing against 16- to 20-year-olds. The oldest guy in the ‘O’ is the youngest guy in college.”
The hype and expectations quickly for Friedman faded into the background once the season started. The attention switched to the team.
The Falcons are 15-5-4 overall and 11-3-2 in the WCHA, entering this weekend league series at Bemidji State. They’re third in the league, three points out second with two games in hand, and ranked sixth nationally.
“He’s a guy who wants to be the best defenseman,” Bergeron said. “He wants to be the guy people focus on. It was just a matter of time, and getting used to this level, You’re seeing more of that now.”