PITTSBURGH — To start the Three Rivers Classic at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 29, Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels sent out a line combination to start the game that doesn’t necessarily get a lot of press and was listed as the fourth line on his depth chart.
Of course, Daniels had a pretty good reason to send Jacob Hetz, Trevor Recktenwald and Tyler Andrew over the boards first. That much became evident when the public address announced listed all three with their hometowns as part of the introduction. Glenshaw. Bethel Park. Venetia.
That’s right, Ferris State, which is located in Big Rapids, Michigan — a seven-hour drive from the Steel City — has an all-Pittsburgh forward line. It’s something they’re pretty proud of, too.
“Pittsburgh is a growing area in terms of youth hockey,” Daniels said. “I wanted to start that line so people realize that we have three players from Pennsylvania on our roster. I think this is a market that’s going to continue to grow in youth hockey.”
Of course, there is a reason that the Burgh-born trio were put together in the first place and it wasn’t just to show off their Pittsburgh roots. The three big forwards are a big part of the tough brand of hockey Daniels like to play.
“They’re all good-sized,” he said. “There’s a lot of size to that line. Our rink is a little bit shorter than an NHL-sized sheet. It’s fairly compact. That line is really effective. They’re big, they’re strong. If they get the puck in the offensive zone, it’s hard to get it away from them.”
Andrew is the oldest, and at 6-foot-5, the biggest of the three. The rugged junior plays on the right wing. The other two are sophomores, with Recktenwald, the highest-scoring member of the line this season as a pivot and Hetz on the left wing.
Though they knew each other and Hetz and Recktenwald spent a season together on the Pittsburgh Viper Stars in 2011-12, there was no grand plan from the player’s end to end up together at Ferris State. But they had some help. Longtime Bulldogs assistant Mark Kaufman is a Pittsburgh native and played hockey for Central Catholic, so he knows a thing or two about what PIHL players have to offer.
Kaufman and his fourth line aren’t the only connection between the Bulldogs and Pittsburgh, either. Penguins winger Chris Kunitz is a Ferris State alum and he took in the team’s game against Robert Morris and stopped by the locker room afterwards despite his busy schedule.
I was able to catch up with Andrew, Hetz and Recktenwald in between games of the Three Rivers Classic and here is a lightly-edited transcript of our conversation.
PHD: How cool was it to all be in the starting lineup together back at home in Pittsburgh?
Tyler Andrew: It was pretty awesome. Once in a lifetime.
Jacob Hetz: Especially hearing the crowd when they said we were from the are, giving us a lot of cheers. it was pretty cool.
Trevor Recktenwald: It was pretty cool to be able to do that together in front of our home crowd. Not that many Pittsburgh guys get to play together in college. We have three guys one on team. It’s pretty cool.
PHD: Tyler, you were the first one to commit. Why Ferris State?
TA: They just started talking to me when I was in juniors. I was pretty impressed with the hockey program. They were fourth or fifth in the nation at the time. I just really wanted to be a part of that.
PHD: Did you help recruit the other two?
TA: Actually, I didn’t. I didn’t even really know they were taking to Ferris until they both committed.
PHD: When did you guys find out you were playing at the Three Rivers Classic?
JH: We found out last year. As soon as we found out, we’ve been counting down the days, because I don’t know about them, but I’ve never player here until last night. It was an incredible experience.
PHD: What was it like having Chris Kunitz come speak to the team?
TR: It was a pretty cool experience just knowing that he was here. We’ve obviously watched him play over the last couple of years. He came and talked to us. It was really neat to hear him in the locker room and get to meet him.
TA: It was pretty cool because before any of us were even at Ferris, we were watching Kunitz play with the Penguins. It was just a pretty special moment.
JH: We were just in awe when he came into the locker room.
PHD: Are you guys close friends off the ice?
TR: Yeah, I’ve known Jake since we were little. Our dads worked together and we’ve known each other all the way up. We roomed together last year as freshmen.
TA: We’re definitely good friends off the ice.
PHD: What do you miss the most about Pittsburgh?
JH: Primanti Brothers. Definitely food.
TR: It’s the whole atmosphere of Pittsburgh. It’s one of a kind and special and that’s what you miss the most.
PHD: Who is the biggest “yinzer”?
TA: I think we’re all pretty even. We try to bring as much of it as we can to Big Rapids.
JH: We try to say yinz a lot when we’re back in Big Rapids, taking with the boys with a little bit of an accent.
PHD: Do you feel playing in this tournament will increase the recognition of Ferris State in the area?
TR: I think it will grow a little bit, especially for the hockey community, because those are mostly the fans that are here. Hopefully his helps get our name out there a little bit more.