Mark Friedman is one step closer to reaching his goal of playing in the National Hockey League.
The Bowling Green junior defenseman signed his professional contract Tuesday morning with the Philadelphia Flyers, who drafted him in the third round (86th overall) in 2014.
He’ll report Thursday to the American Hockey League’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the Flyers’ top minor-league affiliate.
Friedman signed his contract in the Falcon hockey lounge at the Slater Family Ice Arena. The Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, New Jersey reported the 21-year-old signed an entry-level contract and will be with the Phantoms for the rest of the season.
“Just readiness and how comfortable I felt on the ice,” Friedman said of his decision to turn pro and forego his senior with the Falcons. “I just felt like I was ready to go to the next level and, hopefully, make an impact as soon as possible.
“My dream is to play in the NHL. No matter how long it takes me, I’m just going to keep working hard to get there.”
Friedman played three seasons with the Falcons, totaling 16 goals and 52 assists in 112 career games. He also had an on-ice rating of +22, 58 penalties for 143 minutes, six power-play goals, one short-handed goal and two game-winning goals.
The Toronto native earned All-Western Collegiate Hockey Association recognition in each of his three seasons. He was a third-team selection as a junior, a first-team pick as a sophomore and an all-rookie-team honoree as a freshman.
“I like where my game is at,” Friedman said. “My game is good. It’s as good as it’s been defensively. Obviously, you always want more offensively. You always want to push for more and more goals, and more assists. My overall game has just evolved as each year has gone on.”
Friedman already was an elite-level skater with outstanding offensive skills when he joined the Falcons in the fall of 2014. He’s produced every season offensively, and had career highs this season in goals (eight), assists (18) and points (26).
But the defensive part of Friedman’s game improved each season, and he defended well this season. Although he’s only 5-foot-10, 196 pounds, he can be physical when needed and competes hard.
“For him, defending is just a decision,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “It’s not that he doesn’t want to defend. When he decides to take away time and space, he’s really tough to play against because he skates and he competes. He’ll fight you for it.
“What he does from an offensive perspective, he’s got instincts you can’t teach,” Bergeron added. “It’s a pretty good package, if he’s defending.”
Friedman was a regular every season and skated on the power-play and penalty-killing units. He averaged 30-35 minutes per game during BG’s success late this season.
The Flyers regularly watched Friedman during his three seasons at BG. NBCSports.com reported Friedman might have a chance to play for the Flyers next season.
“It’s a big loss, but we understand,” Bergeron said. “He feels it’s time to move on. Philadelphia feels like it’s time to start his professional career. He’s one of those guys who has always wanted this opportunity. Now he’s earned it. We’re in support of it. We’re happy for him. We wish him all the best.
“He’s going to have learn how to be a pro from an off-ice perspective as much as on-ice,” Bergeron added. “But the on-ice, he brings a bunch of different layers. He’s a prospect, for sure. It’ll be interesting to see how he does and how his career progresses.”
Rumors of Friedman signing with the Flyers originally started during his freshman season and continued during the next two seasons. The BG coaching staff has been recruiting with the idea of Friedman leaving early.
Bergeron said Friedman’s decision was “not a surprise.”
The terms of the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement encourages teams to sign its drafted college players before end of the player’s senior year. An NHL team has the rights to a college player until Aug. 15 after he graduates. After that, the team loses those rights and the player then becomes a free agent.
“I definitely had the best three years of my life here at Bowling Green,” Friedman said. “I just want to thank my teachers, my coaches, and definitely my teammates and parents for all of the stuff they had to go through to get me where I am today.
“The hard work is just continuing, and it’s going to get even harder. I felt like I had done as much as I could for the program. Hopefully, I left it better than when I got here.”
Friedman, who has a 2.7 grade-point average in sport management, said he plans on finishing his degree. He said he might have to change majors because there aren’t as many online classes in sport management as there are in other areas.
“I definitely need my degree and want it,” Friedman said.