Ice Dogs vs. Jets

Fairbanks Ice Dogs forward Grant Ledford, right, get his stick tangled with Janesville Jets forward Luke Wheeler during Thursday night’s North American Hockey League game at the Big Dipper Ice Arena. DANNY MARTIN/NEWS-MINER

Grant Ledford had a few choices when it came to choosing a college where he’d play hockey and work for a degree.

The Fairbanks Ice Dogs team captain and right wing decided to commit to Adrian College, a NCAA Division III program in Adrian, Michigan, about 35 miles southwest of his hometown of Jackson, Michigan.

Ledford, 21, considered the University of Wisconsin Superior, a Division III program to which Ice Dogs teammate Ty Proffitt committed earlier this year. A financial and family reason helped with Ledford’s  final decision.

“It’s the same price as it would be for me to travel up to Superior as it would be to just go to Adrian,” Ledford said by phone Wednesday. “I figured my grandparents are getting a little older and I’d like them to watch some hockey. They’d be able to come and watch me play at Adrian.”

His grandparents live across the road from Ledford’s home in Jackson.

Adrian also offered his desired major, wildlife biology, and he was impressed with the Bulldogs hockey program. Adrian, this past season, captured the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association’s South Division regular-season title and reached the conference tournament’s championship game.

“They’re one of the best teams in Division III,” Ledford said. “I knew that I’d be able to play top-notch hockey for Division III and be able to still have fun. I know a couple of the guys on that team and it’s going to be fun to be able to play with them again.”

He is the third player from the 2018-19 Ice Dogs roster to commit to a Division III school and the 11th  to commit to a college hockey program.

Jake Borgida committed to Trinity College, a Division III program in Hartford, Connecticut.

Eight players from the Ice Dogs’ runner-up squad in the North American Hockey League’s 2019 Robertson Cup National Tournament committed to Division I programs.

The group comprises Dylan Abbott (Minnesota State), Parker Brown (Air Force Academy), Luke Mobley (Clarkson), Jax Murray (Arizona State), Jonny Sorenson (Minnesota), John Stampohar (Canisius), and Noah Wilson and Luke Ciolli, both to Army.

Ledford spent the past two seasons with the Ice Dogs, which he said helped him develop for college hockey.

The winger who said he wasn’t the most skilled player when he came to Fairbanks leaves Alaska to play hockey at home. Before he was an Ice Dog, Ledford skated with two 18U programs — Team Dixon and Meijer AAA — in 2016-17 in the NAPHL, a development league of the NAHL, which is comprises 26 Tier II junior A teams.

“I wasn’t developed enough to play college,” the 6-foot-3 and 195-pound wing recalled about when he first joined the Ice Dogs in 2017-18. “I came up here, and it was a big step for me to get away from my family this far away. 

“I think getting away from everything that I actually felt comfortable was like huge for my next step. They (Ice Dogs) helped me develop a little more skill and some hockey sense throughout the time up here. It taught me to a better person with everything in the community and stuff like that. They just helped me all around.

“Coming up here was an unbelievable experience, I couldn’t have asked for a better place to go.”

Ledford is also grateful to be playing.

His first season with the Ice Dogs was cut short after he sustained a neck injury during a Midwest Division game against the Kenai River Brown Bears. He had contributed two goals and six assists for eight points in 39 games before the injury.

“One of our defensemen went to flip the puck out and I was going out of the zone to get it,” Ledford recalled. “Kenai’s defenseman stopped it and I turned around to pick his pocket and I was stretched out. 

Our defenseman ended up hitting that guy and his back hit me directly on top of the head, and it kind of like snapped my neck back.

“It could have been a lot worse. I could have been done playing hockey.”

During this past season, Ledford was named the Ice Dogs team captain.

“He had three to four months of recovery and he came back and defied the odds,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said. “He became the captain of a team that was one goal away from winning a national championship.

“I think it was huge (captaincy), especially for the guys who were part of the team last year (2017-18). They saw what he had to go through and it was an easy choice for them to name (vote)  him captain. He improved daily and he’s what the Ice Dogs are all about.

“He’s a good story who was maybe a little bit underskilled, but he kept on working and he was impactful to our hockey club this season.”

The Ice Dogs lost 2-1 to the Aberdeen (South Dakota) Wings in the Robertson Cup championship game May 14 in the Fogerty Ice Arena in Blaine, Minnesota. Fairbanks was seeking its fourth title to go with the Robertson Cup trophies it gained in 2011, 2014, 2016.

Ledford, who skated in all 10 postseason games for Fairbanks, said he tried to lead by example as the Ice Dogs team captain.

“I really didn’t try to boss a ton of people around,” he said. “I wasn’t that type of captain. I’d go out on every shift and try to play my game.

“I tried leading by example the best I could. I tried to play hard every shift.”

Ledford skated in 54 games this season and contributed 30 points from 15 goals and 15 assists.

Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.