The Ohio State men’s hockey team celebrates a goal from Freddy Gerard in a game against Michigan on Nov. 24. Credit: Ric Kruszynski | Ohio State Athletics

Ohio State junior forward Freddy Gerard didn’t come from a hockey-crazed town. That didn’t stop him from chasing his dream.

Gerard grew up in Rocky River, Ohio, a small town in the Cleveland area.

“It’s a good crowd of kids that grew up playing in the area. They had an triple-A organization that I was fortunate to be able to grow up playing in,” Gerard said. “My brother and I played there for well over 10 years. That led us into the junior hockey route and led us both to playing in college.”

His path to Ohio State was not a simple recruiting process, and required him to travel to play on a team to get him more exposure. Gerard got recruited to play junior hockey in Boston, where he spent two years.

Gerard said while in Boston, he was not recruited the way he envisioned, and ultimately decided to play with his brother in the United States Hockey League in Madison, Wisconsin.

Although Gerard didn’t find the spotlight he was looking for when he left for Boston, that changed when he moved to Madison to play in the USHL in 2014-15. It was clear early on Gerard was one of the best players on the team after he finished the season second on the team in points. He not only led the Madison Capitols in the stat sheet, but he also was a leader off the ice for the team. He began the season as an alternate captain before being promoted during the season to captain. At the end of the season, his teammates voted him as the MVP of the team.

Around 12 games into the season he was approached by Ohio State coaches after a game. Shortly thereafter, he was offered a spot on the roster.

“At that point, it was kind of a no-brainer,” Gerard said. “I grew up playing in Cleveland, it’s my home state and it’s nice being close to home. It’s also a great university with a lot of resources for academics. The hockey team is pretty spoiled, we get everything we could ever want.”

When he arrived in Columbus, it was, as expected, a shift from the USHL.

Despite the experience gained in the junior hockey league, Gerard said the combination of the on-ice and off-the-ice changes joining a collegiate hockey team required plenty of adjusting.

“The game is played a little quicker,” he said. “Guys are bigger and stronger, and you’re the underclassman on the team. You have to deal with sitting out some games and not playing the high minutes you were used to growing up and being one of the better guys on your team.”

Becoming part of the team and taking the time to dedicate himself to becoming a better hockey player would prove a challenge, but one Gerard was willing to face.

“That was tough. It’s helped shape me into the player that I’ve started to become today,” Gerard said. “Now that I’m into my junior year, I’m starting to play more minutes and have more responsibility on the team playing a bigger role. It’s all starting to come together and I’m really starting to feel like my I’m playing well here and I’m finding my spot on the team as an accountable player.”

The Buckeyes (8-4-4, 3-4-1-0 Big Ten) have benefited from Gerard’s increased role. He is the fifth-leading point-scorer on Ohio State with four goals and four assists.

His efforts were best exemplified in a game against Michigan in Ann Arbor, in which he scored the game-tying and game-winning goals back-to-back.

“That’s something you dream about. In any sport, you want to play in the big games, score the big goals. The Ohio State versus Michigan rivalry is something that’s been talked about for years,” Gerard said. “Going up there and doing that is special. I never thought something like that would happen. It all happened pretty quick, after the game I was one happy kid in that locker room.”

Beating Michigan and finding his footing as a strong player has been exciting for Gerard, and he looks to carry that momentum into the rest of the season.

“I’m not going to look too much into it or change too much of what I’m doing. I don’t want to overthink everything,” Gerard said. “Hopefully we can run towards a Big Ten championship and get a chance to play in the tournament again. Hopefully run for a national title.”