Brandon Hawkins always had the skills to play college hockey.
But there were those who wondered if he was willing to work hard consistently on and off the ice once he reached the collegiate level.
Entering this weekend’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff series, the Bowling Green freshman has left no doubt about his commitment.
The Macomb, Mich. native was the league’s top rookie scorer and is tied for eighth in scoring overall. He’s played in all 36 games, totaling 28 points, including a team-best 14 goals. His 14 assists are third-most on the team.
Hawkins also has improved his defense. He has an on-ice rating of plus-4, and has just seven penalties (all minors).
Off the ice, Hawkins has a 3.72 grade-point average, and he’s improved his weight, physical strength and eating habits. He came to BG at 205 pounds, and has improved his weight to 190-195.
“I really want to do this (play hockey) the rest of my life,” said Hawkins, who also leads BG with 115 shots on goal. “You’re either going to go all in, or you’re not going to go in at all. I don’t want to be just average.”
Hawkins heard the whispers about his lack of commitment, and admitted they were true. Some thought he would only see a regular shift on a fourth line in college although his offensive skills would enable him to skate on the power play.
Hawkins has played on one of BG’s top three lines and leads the team with 10 power-play points. He’s tied with Kevin Dufour and Ben Murphy for the team lead in power-play goals with four.
“I came in thinking I was freshman and I was going to have my mistakes, and I was going to learn from them,” Hawkins said. “I’ve just tried to learn and do my best every day.”
BG coach Chris Bergeron, and assistant coaches Ty Eigner and Barry Schutte were aware of the doubts about Hawkins. Hawkins played with the Little Caesars U18 midget team, and junior hockey in the North American Hockey League and United States Hockey League before coming to BG.
“When we were recruiting Brandon, the word that kept coming up, kept coming up, kept coming up, was willingness,” Bergeron said.
“Is he going to be willing to work in the weight room like he’s never worked before and work in practice like he’s never worked before? He said he was. That is something he’s done for us.”
Hawkins also regularly watches video of his games, seeing his mistakes and learning from them.
“When you tell him something, he’ll do it,” Bergeron said. “He’s learning not to have to be told. He’s becoming more consistent with things. You can see him trying to do things the way he’s coached. There are days we have to remind him of things, but he’s been very receptive to coaching. He’s come out of his comfort zone and done things like he never has before.”
The hard work has enabled Hawkins to play well most nights.
He has an excellent shot because of a quick release. He’s also an excellent passer, makes smart plays and plays with poise.
“He’s got offense to him, and he’s always had that,” Bergeron said. “The surprise for me came in how well he distributes the puck and how well he passes it. When the puck is on his stick, he can do things other people can’t do. He sees things other people don’t see.”
Hawkins totaled 65 goals and 45 assists in 118 games of junior hockey with Texas in the NAHL and Sioux City in the USHL.
This season, he has a point in 14 of his last 18 games, totaling eight goals and nine assists.
Hawkins scored one of BG’s goals of the season on a penalty shot last Friday against Alabama-Huntsville. He used a terrific series of moves as he avoid a pokecheck by goalie Carmine Guerriero.
Hawkins showed forehand, backhand, forehand, moved to his right to elude Guerriero and then slid the puck into an empty net from the right side of the crease.
The next challenge for Hawkins and the Falcons comes this weekend when they host Northern Michigan in a best of 3 quarterfinal series Friday, Saturday and, if needed, Sunday. Faceoff all three nights is 7:07.
“Right before Christmas, I got set in a groove where my schedule and routine during the week were pretty good,” Hawkins said. “I felt right, no matter what I was doing.
“It’s just a matter of me being in the game mentally. If I’m in it mentally, the physical part will come with it.”
The only other school interested in Hawkins was Michigan State, where his mother, Melissa, played tennis. He hasn’t decided on a major, but is leaning towards human development/family studies or communications.
“I’m not surprised he’s been this good this early. He has the chance to be a pretty good player by the time he’s done,” Bergeron said. “The idea was if he’s willing to try harder at the defensive zone, competing, the other stuff will take care of itself. His offensive skills were too good for him not to be a top-line player.”