Will Kessel has known since he was a youngster that he wanted to play hockey at the college level.
While not everybody follows through on childhood dreams, you can count Kessel as one who has, as he is about to enter his junior season with Western Michigan University’s Division I hockey program.
As a youth, Kessel, of Bloomfield Hills, received some of his training playing for the Hazel Park-based AAA Honeybaked travel team before eventually landing with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League, which Kessel described as a “feeder program” to the NCAA. It was that experience that led to his being recruited by Western Michigan.
Aside from the advantage of being closer to home, Kessel has also enjoyed the experience of suiting up for the Broncos.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s cool to play for a school and have a student body that supports you. People at Western love hockey. Our student section is unbelievable here. It’s a lot of fun playing for your school and representing Kalamazoo.”
Kessel’s fondest memory playing for Western Michigan thus far is a win against the University of Michigan at the Joe Louis Arena his freshman season, which gave the Broncos a Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) league championship. Kessel was able to contribute to the Broncos’ cause with approximately 10 points and six goals during the final months of that season.
As enjoyable as that experience was, Kessel would like to have even fonder memories to look back on before ending his career with Western Michigan.
“We’re in a new league this year — the NCHC (National Collegiate Hockey Conference),” he said. “Our goal is to win the league and contend, and win a national championship. Anything short of that, our team will be disappointed. Western’s a program (that’s) made big strides in the last few years. We’re looking to continue to build. We’re not satisfied. Sky’s the limit.”
Kessel, who is an assistant captain, began his career at Western playing the wing position and moved to center last season. Being moved to center, as well as being named an assistant captain, didn’t happen by accident.
Kessel offered some thoughts as to what the key to his success has been and a lesson he learned along the way.
“The biggest thing is working hard,” he said. “Took me a little while. I was very talented growing up, but didn’t always put in the hardest work off the ice. Learning how to put in the extra time. … There’s a lot of sacrifices along the way you have to make, but if you got (a) higher goal, it’ll end up working out.”
Making it as far as Division I hockey requires plenty of support, and Kessel said he has received that from his parents, brothers and coaches. Some of the coaches who have helped Kessel along the way include former Detroit Red Wings player Doug Brown (who coached him during his youth); Rob Krohl, who coached him during his Honeybaked days; and former Green Bay Gamblers coach Jon Cooper, who is now a head coach in the National Hockey League with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Kessel may also need plenty of further support, as he goes after his next big dream.
“I’m looking to play professionally,” he said. “Play as long as I can, and hopefully, be able to earn some money out of it — get out of working a real-life job for as long as I can.”