Duckworth nets 23 points in 21 games

Freshman adds firepower to top line of GV club hockey

By Adam Knorr | 1/6/14 12:16pm

Sustaining personal success is a top priority of any athlete, no matter the level of competition.

As every athlete knows, however, individual achievement does not come easily. With each increasing level of competition comes higher expectations, stricter discipline and a need for an insatiable work ethic.

For an athlete who has been at the college level for a few years, these performance standards can be difficult to live up to. For many freshman, they are near impossible.

That has not been the case for freshman center JD Duckworth, who has been an offensive catalyst for the Grand Valley State University club ice hockey team with the third-highest point total so far in the 2013-2014 campaign.

“JD has a lot of talent, but he has a very good work ethic,” GVSU assistant coach Darrel Newman said. “He’s very level-headed. He’s just a player that any coach would love to have on their team just because of the way he carries himself.”

Duckworth, with his Pavel Bure-esque speed, has quickly found a way to adjust at the ACHA Division II level and has played his way to the first line while notching eight goals and 15 assists.

The immediate impact may have come as a surprise to some, but the 18-year-old freshman is a 15-year veteran of the trade.

He first began playing hockey with his older brothers in the driveway of his childhood home when he was barely old enough to carry a stick. Competitive ice hockey found its way into his life at age six and into his heart soon after.

His skills continued to grow with age, as did his hockey IQ.

“He has great vision on the ice,” junior forward Matt Smartt said. “He can anticipate what’s going to happen and react well to be in the right spot at the right time.”

Duckworth, Smartt and junior forward Brad Wilhelm rank first, second and third in both goals and points. The trio has accounted for more than 36 percent of the team’s total goals and is a key reason for its 13-6-1 record this season.

The rookie credits a former coach, Travis Richards, as the main fixture in his hockey success.

Richards, a former NHL player and long-time Grand Rapids Griffin, coached Duckworth for two years when he played in Holland, Mich.

“My success is partly due to my family, because they always pushed me to work hard and to always do my best, but Richards is the main one who taught me a lot about the game and how to be successful,” he said.

Following his tenure under Richards, Duckworth earned his way onto the Michigan Nationals AAA team, where he honed his skills before moving on to the next level.

Then, after some deliberation, he chose GVSU instead of Bethel University (MN) as the place to continue his development, citing GVSU’s strong educational standing as a major reason for the choice.

His success on the ice may have come in tidal-wave fashion, but he has remained calm, cool and collected off the ice.

The biomedical sciences major said he continues to put his faith and his studies above hockey, displaying the type of maturity that coaches point to as a primary reason for his solid play.

“First I would have to say my faith in Christ has given me the skill and work ethic to play at this high level,” he said. “School is the most important over hockey, so I need to keep up with my studies and maintain a good GPA. I plan to keep helping the team win with points, but I just want to keep having fun.”

It seems he has all the tools to sustain his early success at the college level. The skill is abundant, the eyes fixed forward and the head that is so crucial to his accomplishments nestled safely under a black-and-Laker-blue helmet.

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