Brett D’Andrea struggled just to be in the lineup during his first two seasons at Bowling Green.
Now that he’s in shape physically, and his game has improved and become more well rounded, the junior center is no longer in danger of being of a healthy scratch.
The question now for D’Andrea is quickly becoming how much will he play in each game.
D’Andrea is off to a solid start this season. He has two goals and three assists in 10 games. He skates on the power-play and penalty-killing units, the penalty-killing duties being added to his résumé this season.
The 5-foot-11, 188-pounder is one of best in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association at winning faceoffs. He’s won 61.1 percent of his 96 faceoffs, third-best in the league for players who have taken at least 20 faceoffs.
D’Andrea also said he’s done a better job of keeping his feet moving.
“I feel good about my game,” said D’Andrea, who played in just 34 of BG’s 42 games last season and 17 of its 39 games as a freshman. “I like the way I’m playing, but there’s always room for improvement.”
After last season, D’Andrea worked hard during the offseason in order to earn more playing time. His summer schedule included about half a dozen trips to BG for workouts with strength coach Kenny Goodrich.
“I was (in shape) ready to go,” said D’Andrea, who is from Marysville, Michigan.
D’Andrea had a goal and two assists in BG’s non-counting exhibition against Windsor Oct. 1 in the Ice Arena. Although the statistics from the exhibition were fiction in the eyes of the NCAA, the goals gave D’Andrea confidence.
“It’s always nice to score,” D’Andrea said. “It’s nice to get the feet wet and get the monkey off your back.”
But D’Andrea missed BG’s season-opening series at Bemidji State Oct. 7-8 because of a hit to the head he took against Windsor. He returned the next weekend and totaled one goal and two assists in the Falcons’ next three games against Western Michigan and Ohio State.
D’Andrea then went six games without a point before collecting one goal and one assist last Friday in a 5-1 victory at Northern Michigan.
“He’s a guy who was basically on the outside looking it for the better part of two years,” Falcon coach Chris Bergeron said. “The one thing he never did, at least publicly, he never blamed anybody else. He took the coaching and worked. This is a guy who could have gone sideways before now because he wasn’t getting the ice time or the rewards on the ice he feels he should have. He never pointed the finger. Now, he’s getting rewarded.”
D’Andrea has always shot the puck well, enabling him to play on the power play. Now, he’s improved his defense and kills penalties. He has a career on-ice rating of +9. Because of his versatility, he can play in every situation.
He has nine goals and 11 assists in 61 games with the Falcons.
D’Andrea skated on a line with sophomore left wing Stephen Baylis and senior right wing Matt Pohlkamp at NMU. The line played well in BG’s sweep of the series, helping the Falcons improve to 3-3 in the WCHA.
“I wanted to come in and be more of an impact player every night,” D’Andrea said.
D’Andrea’s always had good offensive skills. He had 24 goals and 53 assists during the 2013-14 season with Carleton Place in the Central Canadian (Junior) Hockey League, and 36 goals and 29 assists in 105 games the two seasons before that with Port Huron in the North American (Junior) Hockey League.
“He’s added more layers to his game,” Bergeron said. “Now, you’ve got a confident player. He’s building up equity in his game, and he’s building up confidence in his game. That’s a tribute to him. That’s something he earned. He’s getting exactly what he deserves. He deserves to be on the ice. He deserves to be contributing because of the work he’s put in during practice and the work he’s put in during the summer.”
D’Andrea has been solid on faceoffs throughout his career. He was second in the WCHA last season at 55.5 percent for players who had at least 100 faceoffs, and he led the team as a freshman at 54.2 percent for players with at least 10 attempts.
D’Andrea also has fared well academically. He has a 3.37 grade-point average and was named to the WCHA’s all-academic team last season.
“Faceoffs are a big thing for me. I want to be the faceoff guy in every situation, offensive or defensive,” D’Andrea said. “I’m just trying to take away time and space in the defensive zone and make plays in the offensive zone. I’m really embracing the defensive part of the game.”
Bergeron also likes D’Andrea’s hockey sense and his ability to see the game and understand it well.
“He’s a really smart hockey player. I don’t know if there’s guys smarter who are out there,” Bergeron said. “He sees what is going on out there. He’s a very responsible player because of the hockey sense.”
One example of D’Andrea’s hockey sense, Bergeron cited, was his realizing he’s not the fastest skater. Because the Falcons want to play the game fast, D’Andrea will pass the puck, instead of trying to skate it up the ice himself. That enables BG to move into the offensive zone faster, Bergeron said.
“He’s got really good puck skills,” Bergeron said. “He’s a guy who makes other players around him better, and he has a good knack around the net. He can score goals.”