In 43 years of varsity competition, Ferris State Hockey has a long-standing tradition of developing high-end defensemen. Many, including Andy Roach, John Gruden, Chad Billins, Zach Redmond, and Dave Karpa have played in the National Hockey League.
The tradition is set to continue when Cooper Zech steps foot on campus for the 2018-19 season. Zech, who currently plays for the Wenatchee Wild in the British Columbia League (BCHL), is the 2017-18 BCHL Top Defenceman Trophy winner.
"We are very proud to have Cooper Zech join the Ferris State Hockey Program," Ferris State Hockey Head Coach Bob Daniels said. "For Cooper to win the Best Defensemen of the Year award for the British Columbia Junior Hockey League speaks volumes of his potential to have an immediate impact in college hockey."
Recently, Ferris State has had great success with BCHL alums, including the current Bulldog captain.
"Our last major award winner from the BCHL (Canadian Junior Hockey Player of the Year) was Corey Mackin," Daniels said. "We believe Cooper will make the same positive contributions to our team. We look forward to having him in our lineup next season."
Zech amassed a towering 69 points in 58 games for the Wild in the regular season, 13 points more than the next highest scoring defenseman in the BCHL this year. His 58 assists led all BCHL skaters, as did his 22 power play assists.
One would see where Zech fits in with the Ferris State blue print. The Bulldogs consistently finish in the top ten in the country in percentage of points by defensemen and were in the top five in 2017-18.
For the second consecutive year, the BCHL's Joe Tennant Memorial Trophy for Coach of the Year was awarded to Wild Head Coach Bliss Littler. In Zech, Littler has a defenseman that has consistently led his team on the ice in games and in practice.
"He basically is taking his power play unit and there's not much we have to say to those guys, he runs it," Littler said. "He'll have them out before practice, they'll work on certain things, it could be something he saw on TV, he's definitely taken control of his power play unit."
One area in which the Bulldogs have excelled is in developing more undersized defensemen. Prime example, US Olympian Chad Billins led the 2011-12 Bulldogs to the National Championship Game and won a Calder Cup in the American Hockey League with the Grand Rapids Griffins the following season.
"Oh I think Zech will have a chance to be a pro, I think that he's definitely a bit undersized, but what he has is his vision's uncanny," Littler said. "Outstanding puck skills, I think those two things and being able to make the first pass on the breakout and having the ability to make people miss when they're coming at him in the offensive zone, it's rare that he ever gets a shot blocked. He just makes a lot of really good decisions with the puck."
Though Zech shares a similar build to Billins, he brings to the table what many successful Bulldogs in program history, including current American Hockey League forward for the Iowa Wild Gerald Mayhew, displayed fervently.
"We knew he had good skills," Littler said. "But he's a kid that plays with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, he uses that as motivation, he's a very driven kid."
Zech figures to use that chip to his advantage. Though he had strong seasons in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) with the Odessa Jackalopes, it seems his game has only continued to elevate as the level he plays at elevates.
"He's had overall an outstanding year," Littler said. "From the first of the year on, he's just made huge strides. He's playing with so much confidence, he's got such good puck skills and stick skills that, he's just a lot of fun to watch right now."
A South Lyon native, Zech will come to a campus that has had more than it's fair share of success in the current decade on the ice. In six years, Ferris State has reached the NCAA Regional Championship game three times, won the MacNaughton Cup and Broadmoor Trophy as WCHA Regular Season and Tournament Champions, respectively, finished as national runners up in 2011-12 and has had a Hobey Baker Top Ten Finalist. Ferris State competed in the postseason for the 21st consecutive season in 2017-18.