Ferris State junior Nate Kallen is finding a new role in Big Rapids as he and freshman defensive partner Cooper Zech are forming a dynamic pairing early on.
The Bulldogs opened the season being swept by No. 18 Western Michigan. They started to find their game over the next six contests, going 4-2, paced by Kallen’s seven assists.
The California native posted a modest 17 points (5 G, 12 A) last season, but he’s never been a leaned-on offensive contributor during his hockey career. This season, a growing trust from coach Bob Daniels is raising his game.
Following Saturday’s loss to Michigan Tech — in which Kallen posted a goal and two assists — he said he worked on a little bit of everything over the summer. He singled out his game from the point, particularly wanting to get more shots through to the net.
Now an expanding role is turning him into a go-to guy in all situations for Daniels. and has been a steady presence early on for the 4-6 Bulldogs. Not only has Kallen responded with a team-leading 10 points (1 G, 9 A) in 10 games — which also leads all WCHA defensemen — but he’s done so with a freshman defensive partner in Zech, which often presents a learning curve.
The learning curve hasn’t been a problem thus far, as Zech’s defensive game has been as marketed. The Michigan native finished fourth in BCHL scoring last season, posting an 11-58–69 stat line in 58 games, leading the league in assists and finishing as the only defenseman among the top-20 scorers.
He added another 23 points (4 G, 19 A) in 20 postseason games and earned the Defenseman of the Year award come season’s end. Already committed to Ferris State, Zech skated in Washington Capitals’ Development Camp over the summer.
Now, Zech is turning heads in the NCAA, teaming up with Kallen to form a strong pairing for fluctuating program currently in a lull.
“It’s been really well, we’ve been playing really well together,” Kallen said over the weekend on his chemistry with Zech. “Especially him being young I feel like he moves the puck really well and I just try to get open when he has the puck and he does the same for me.”
Zech’s seven points (1 G, 6 A) are tied for second in team scoring, and Kallen has had a hand in on six of those points.
Offensive defenseman — especially those of Zech’s 5-foot-9 stature — usually get a bad knock for defensive deficiencies. However, Kallen and Zech sit at plus-5 and plus-2, respectively, which are fair numbers given the Bulldogs’ losing record and negative goal differential.
They have shown chemistry in both zones, sharing a vision of the ice that allows them to feed off of each other while simultaneously covering holes that come with joining the rush. They’re a bright spot in Big Rapids and could be the recipe for success over the next two seasons.
Kallen and Zech will lead the Bulldogs into Mankato for a series against No. 3-ranked Minnesota State, which sits at 7-1. Tune in to catch the pair of 7 PM games on Friday and Saturday live, right here on FloHockey.
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