By RYAN TOWLES, Gazette Writer
HANCOCK - Joe Lewis may be a freshman forward on the Finlandia men's hockey team, but "he's got a lot of game in him," as Lions head coach Joe Burcar puts it.
Lewis is in the midst of his first collegiate hockey season, but the 21-year-old Marquette native brings a depth of experience to this Lions' squad.
Like most Upper Peninsula youths Lewis, son of Bob and Tracy, started early in his hockey career, learning to skate at the tender age of three and starting to play the game when he was just five.
Travel hockey followed and Lewis then moved away at age 17 to play for the midget AAA Madison Capitols major team in Wisconsin. A year later Lewis returned home to play for the Marquette Electricians, finishing his midget career and graduating from Marquette Senior High School.
Lewis again left the area at 19, this time heading to Montana, to pursue his hockey aspirations and spent two seasons with the junior A Helena Bighorns of the North American Hockey League. With the United States Hockey League, the NAHL is a top tier development organization in the U.S.
Several factors inspired Lewis to join the Finlandia program this season. Proximity to home is of course a good selling point, but perhaps more important was the chance to rejoin some former teammates.
"I had a couple of buddies that were coming here and ... coach Burcar is a really good coach, so I just weighed my options and Finlandia was the best place for me to be," Lewis said. "I played travel hockey with Mike Parks my whole life pretty much, and then with (Josh) Paquette for about three years.
"And then I played against Parks the past two years. He played for Bozeman and it was pretty fun playing against each other too."
Lewis has combined forces with Parks and Paquette on an all-Marquette freshman line. That line has helped the Lions make some noise as a fledgling Division III program and first-year member of the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association.
"We were able to put them together, and they just clicked right from day one," Burcar said.
What's the biggest difference between playing junior hockey and the college game?
"I'd say that junior A is a little more physical," said Lewis of the transition from a league using full-blown professional rules. "The speed of the game is a little different (in college). It's more finesse then junior A, so it's fun."
Lewis' biggest game of the season so far has was the Lions Dec. 3 tilt with defending MCHA regular-season champ Marian College. On the road, Lewis scored with only 17 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 5-5 and force overtime.
With just 37 seconds remaining in the extra frame, Lewis struck again and the Lions took the victory 6-5.
That performance earned Lewis MCHA Player of the Week (FU's first) and U.S. College Hockey Online's Division III Offensive Player of the Week. He is only the fifth MCHA player in the league's seven-year history to be named a Player of the Week nationally.
"Marketing-wise (the award) really opens up some eyes," Burcar said. "For us to (continue to) compete on a national level day in and day out, we've got to have players ... that have had a lot of hockey in their careers playing against great players all the time."