Patience is a virtue: Junior transfer Adam Rockwood shines in 1st season for Northern Michigan University hockey team

Northern Michigan University’s Adam Rockwood follows through on a first-period shot against Minnesota State-Mankato in their Nov. 4 WCHA game at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal file photo by Rachel Oakley)

MARQUETTE — Sometimes you just have to let the photograph develop.

That was advice that Northern Michigan University hockey team center Adam Rockwood received from his father growing up — to be patient and wait for the play in front of you to give yourself the perfect opportunity.

Rockwood has used that advice to become the nation’s leader in assists with 29. He’s also seventh in the country in total points, helping the Wildcats to their best season in almost a decade.

“In every sport I’ve played, I was always a playmaker, never a goal scorer,” Rockwood said. “I don’t know how I got it. I was a little torn with it I guess.

“My dad was a huge advocate of that. He would always say ‘Let the photo develop.’ I think in every sport, I’ve kind of done that, even as a lacrosse player. (Lacrosse is) such a fast-paced, rough-and-tough game, but I always would sit outside (the goal area) and see guys.

Adam Rockwood

“Hockey is the same way. I kind of let my linemates pick their spots. Another thing my dad would say is wait for them to get into a scoring opportunity and then pass it. So I give a lot of credit to my dad for that.”

You can see Rockwood’s patience whenever he has the puck. While some players may want to do the equivalent of shaking that Polaroid picture to get the image to emerge, Rockwood is content to give it all the time it needs.

When on an offensive rush, he says he’ll visualize the entire ice and not just the goaltender. Where other skaters may immediately pass the puck to a teammate streaking along the far boards, Rockwood will calmly wait until the perfect opportunity arises before making the pass.

It’s not just during five-on-five play, either. He’ll also employ this technique on the power play.

During a game against his former team, Wisconsin, in Green Bay at the beginning of this season, Rockwood had the puck near the net by the far post.

While the Badgers waited for him to either shoot or pass the puck, Rockwood played around with it on his stick. It was nothing special, just him passing it back and forth, but it caused the Badgers to become loose with their defense.

Finally, as Wildcats defenseman Phil Beaulieu streaked to the net, Rockwood sent the puck across the crease, past the bewildered Badgers and right to Beaulieu, who one-timed the puck into the back of the net. It may have been a simple play, but Rockwood made it look impressive.

“He’s got elite vision,” said NMU head coach Grant Potulny, who like Rockwood is in his first season with the Wildcats. “Lots of good players can see the play. Adam can see the play and make the play through or under a stick at a high pace through traffic in a confrontational situation.

“The stature is different, but the guy who kind of comes to mind that does the same type of stuff is (San Jose Sharks forward) Joe Thornton.

“‘Jumbo Joe’ is a much bigger version of Adam. They both are very competitive and have elite vision and can make plays that not many guys on the rink can see. All of a sudden, it’s in the back of the net.”

Rockwood is used to being patient as due to NCAA rules, he had to sit out a year after leaving Wisconsin before he could suit up in a game for Northern. That may have been difficult for other transfers, but Rockwood didn’t let it bother him much.

“I think one thing that I do well is that I don’t dwell on things,” he said. “I think it was much harder for my family because they didn’t get to see me play, but it really didn’t bother me that much. I’m a late developer in my body and it was a chance for me to put on 10 or 12 pounds of muscle and work out almost every day.

“I worked out with (NMU defenseman) James Vermeulen and he had to sit out a year with an injury.

“Playing now, I do realize how much I missed the games, but it was a blessing in disguise.”

Guys who can handle a situation like that with ease might be hard to find, which shows how special Rockwood is. Potulny realized this early on and made sure to say how rare a transfer player like Rockwood is.

“Usually, when you get a transfer, there’s a reason they transfer, whether it’s academics or they got in trouble or they weren’t good enough to play at the school they were at,” Potulny said. “We will never see another transfer like Adam. You recruit players like Adam out of junior hockey and that’s how you get kids like that.

“You don’t get transfer students that are great people and great students. He’s probably one of the most underappreciated guys in college hockey. He leads the country in assists and nobody has any idea.

“Outside of here, outside of our team and our community, you don’t hear much about Adam. So we’re glad to have him.”

Rockwood may not have captured many eyes this season, but he doesn’t let it bother him because he knows how talented he is and has the confidence that he can be even better.

“I don’t really care,” he said. “I know I’m doing well. The only thing that I care about is I hope professional teams see it and that they see that I’m having a good year.”

He’s already shown what he’s capable of doing, but can Rockwood play at the next level? Potulny thinks so and says that other coaches may not see that right away.

“He’s going to fight the stigma about his size a bit,” Potulny said about Rockwood being listed at 5-foot-9. “There’s a lot of guys who have been successful in professional hockey.

“He’s going to get a chance and somebody is going to get him and then they’re going to be like me. At first, they aren’t going to know much about him. Then within a month, I can’t play him enough. I have to worry about playing him too much. That’s what’s going to happen to him at the next level.

“He’s going to get somewhere and that coach is going to go ‘I could use him as a penalty killer, on the power play, four-on-four, the faceoff dot.’ He’s responsible. Wherever he goes next, he’s going to win that coach over in a hurry.”

Rockwood knows he has what it takes for future success and a lot of that is due to the pressure he puts on himself. He also feels that these extra years of development in college have benefited him greatly and that he just needs to keep improving.

“I think I’m on the right track. I just got to keep working hard and playing the right way and I think Grant holds us accountable to be playing the right way.

“That’s one of the reasons I came to college. It’s four years of developing my game. I had an opportunity to go to the WHL (Western Hockey League) when I was 17 and I didn’t think it was the right choice because I was such a small, young kid. I don’t really feel small anymore. I feel average-sized out there.”

All he needed was to let things develop.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.