By Warren Kozireski–
Dan Willett received more playing time as a freshman than the RIT coaching probably anticipated due to some major injuries among defensemen on the Tigers roster. But that playing time is paying big dividends in this, his sophomore season, as he has eight assists and nine points through 16 games as the team hit the unofficial mid-point of the season (aka—the holiday break).
He was tops among freshman last year with one goal and 13 assists over 27 games. And 20 of his 24 points combined through the first season-and-a-half have come against conference competition.
The offensive defenseman scored 16 times with 67 assists during his USHL career prior to joining RIT, which attracted attention for a few schools.
“When I was recruited they (the coaching staff) told me they really liked my offensive abilities and they told me that, even though I was going to be a freshman coming in with a lot of older defensemen, that I was going to get opportunities to play the way I play, which is something that maybe at other school’s guys don’t get as good of an opportunity right away,” Willett said in December.
“But, with the injuries, I got to jump in to a pretty decent role last year and it ended up working out well for me.”
Growing up in Bayville, NY on the northern shore of Long Island, Willett only had house, youth and travel programs during his development years. As a fifteen-year old, Willett played for New Jersey in the Metropolitan League, which pitted him against older players and he was part of a championship squad.
His nine goals and 26 points in only 23 games received attention and he was drafted by Lincoln, which began his USHL journey at 16 years old.
Starting with Lincoln, he was then traded three times and set the league record for games played over his five seasons also spent with Muskegon, Madison and Bloomington with 266 shattering the previous record of 237.
“It’s not a record that I tend to brag about, but honestly looking back on it I wouldn’t trade any of those years. It was an amazing time, I met great people in all the cities that I played in for the different teams and I still talk to a lot of those guys, even from my first few years.
“So, even though it was a different route and I came to college a little but older than expected, I like where I am now and it all played out well.”
“I was only talking to a couple of schools at the time, but I just really liked their whole recruiting process. They stuck with me the whole way through and made me feel like I was really wanted and some of the other schools were iffy. And they were true to their word with every step of the recruiting process, which meant a lot.”
Listed at 5’6” and 167 lb., Willett needs to use his skating ability and smarts to avoid getting tied up by bigger forwards, but it is something he has grown used to.
“I’m pretty sure that I was the shortest guy in the USHL too, but I always have a competition with Gabe Valenzuela, the other short guy on our team. He’s about one-quarter of an inch taller than me, so I still have that title.”
It hasn’t slowed him down so far.