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Mendelson Looked Upon to Lead Thunder Squad

by Brian Tosti, Bloomington Thunder

With the Bloomington Thunder entering the USHL as an expansion team in the fall, the expectation is that they will have an inexperienced group of players. While that holds some truth, the team will have quite a bit of veteran presence on the squad to lead the organization in its inaugural USHL season.

Vince Pedrie has three seasons under his belt split between the Omaha Lancers and the reigning Clark Cup Champion Indiana Ice. Patrick Curry started the 2013-14 season in the NAHL but finished the year with the Tri-City Storm. While Butrus Ghafari laced up with the Fargo Force for two full seasons, accumulating 89 games played before joining the Thunder.

But not to be lost in the shuffle is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native Matt Mendelson. The Thunder acquired the two-season vet from the Muskegon Lumberjacks where he served as the Assistant Captain for the ‘13-14 season. Mendelson is also the only player predicted to join the Thunder for the upcoming year that has worn a captain’s letter in the USHL.

Not only has he worn a letter, he knows the trials and tribulations that players need to go through on their way into the league.

“My road wasn’t easy. I wasn’t drafted into the USHL. I started to play my midget major year in Pittsburgh for the Penguins Elite organization and about halfway through the year, I caught the eye of the general manager from Muskegon,” said Mendelson. “So I switched high schools and moved right away. It was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.”

In his rookie season, Mendelson joined the club as an affiliate player suiting up for 17 contests and tallying two goals and an assist. But by the time the next season rolled around, he saw a considerable increase in both his numbers and his roll with the Jacks.

“I’d love to help out as a leader here [in Bloomington]. I’m just going to do anything I can to help guys who have less experience,” said Mendelson. “Take them under my wing just like guys led me back when I was a rookie.

The trade that brought Mendelson to the Thunder asserts a preconceived notion that he will be looked upon to be a leader with the team. Even before the season has begun, he is taking hold of that idea. While at the Thunder’s camp in Chicago, he and the other vets were already preparing the rookies for the up-tempo league.

“It’s definitely is a step up for a lot of guys trying to get used to the pace of the USHL, but I think guys rose to the task. We were trying to set a pace [at camp] and everyone stuck to it, so it was a great, competitive week”

But as far as he is concerned, the ‘A’ on his jersey could stand for something more than just a captainship. Adversity. And for Mendelson, that’s just another part of the game.

“My biggest piece of advice to guys would be to just play their game. That’s what got them here. Don’t try to do too much, keep it simple,” said Mendelson. “Adversity is a good thing. Guys go through a lot of it here and you can’t let it stop you. You just need to keep working.”

The USHL path guides almost all players to the college route and Mendelson was looking for that when he decided to play in the league. On January 20th, he committed to play for his “hometown school” of Penn State, which, according to the forward is where his heart was.

“Growing up I always wanted to go the college route because there is life after hockey and I wanted to make sure I received an education. That way, with hockey or not, I will be ready to go into the real world one day. So once Penn State became D-I a couple years ago, I knew I wanted to go there.”

When he joins the Thunder in the fall, Mendelson will be finishing his final season in the USHL before heading to Penn State for the 2015-16 school year and season. While he is set on his school and playing hockey for the Nittany Lions, there is still one question that will linger in his head for the time being.

“I can’t tell you a career. I definitely will be a business major at Penn State, but that’s as far ahead as I can think right now,” said Mendelson with a smirk.

An inaugural season is thought to be a struggle for leadership and in this case, may be on a “lead by committee” mentality for the USHL vets and Head Coach Dennis Williams, but one thing is for sure, when it comes to the leadership of the Bloomington Thunder this season, they are already in good hands.

USHL stats – Matt Mendelson

 

Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 13th season as the nation’s only Tier I junior hockey league in 2014-15.  A record 35 players were chosen in the 2014 NHL Draft and more than 300 players on team rosters last season have committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.  For more information, visit us on the web at www.USHL.com or visit the League’s social media platforms, including Facebook (www.facebook.com/ushlhockey), twitter (www.twitter.com/ushl), and YouTube (www.youtube.com/ushlinteractive).  Fans can also watch USHL action all season long, live or on-demand via FASTHockey (ushl.fasthockey.com).

It’s not just hockey. It’s the USHL.

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