WATERLOO | Mark Friedman wasn't even in the Waterloo Black Hawks' plans for the 2013-14 season.
After a solid 2012-13 season that saw Friedman play rock-solid defense while contributing 10 goals and 30 assists through the regular season and Clark Cup playoffs, it was expected the Toronto, Ont. native would move on to play at Bowling Green University.
But a snafu in the classes he had taken didn't pass him through the NCAA Clearing House. So, as the Black Hawks opened camp for this season, Friedman showed up at the door asking to come back.
Waterloo head coach P.K. O'Handley didn't have to think twice.
"They welcomed me back with open arms," Friedman said. "I can't thank the coaches enough for having me back. I wasn't supposed to come back and I did."
Friedman rewarded the Black Hawks with another standout season, scoring 10 goals and dishing out 30 assists, despite missing nine games because of mono. His presence on the blue line was a main factor in Waterloo capturing its second regular-season Anderson Cup in franchise history.
Friedman maintained his strong play in the sweep of Sioux Falls to open the Clark Cup playoffs with three assists. Waterloo will count on him to log as much as 22-24 minutes of ice time as they prepare to face Sioux City tonight in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
"I think it worked out for the team and more importantly it worked out for Mark," O'Handley said. "I think this second year was pivotal and crucial for his development.
"Could he have gone to college and been successful, yes. But I think now he has the opportunity to go to college and be a true impact player."
Considered undersized at 5-foot-11, 185-pounds, Friedman makes up for it with grit and desire. O'Handley says Friedman's compete level and desire to win rivals any player he's coached in the USHL.
"He plays bigger than what he is," Black Hawk associate head coach Shane Fukushima added. "He is one of the better two-way defensemen we've had here. He is extremely mobile and competitive and can add offensive punch. He's also very tenacious when he defends ... it's a deadly combination."
Friedman agrees that his second season in the USHL has been beneficial from being able to improve his leadership skills in the room and on the ice to everything in general with his game.
"It's kind of like never be satisfied in your play," said Friedman who has passed the NCAA clearing house and will play for Bowling Green, a team that has been recruiting him since he was 14, next winter. "
NHL scouts have taken notice of Friedman as well as he's jumped from 133rd to 124th on the Central Scouting Service's rankings of North American skaters. Fukushima said from every gauge the Black Hawks have gotten from NHL scouts both Friedman and fellow blue liner Brandon Montour are expected to be taken in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft in either the second or third rounds.
Unlike Montour, who was a complete unknown when Waterloo drafted him last year, Friedman was a player the Black Hawks had been eyeing for a few years when they took him with the second of three picks in the fourth round of the 2012 USHL Entry Draft.
Waterloo took Friedman 53rd overall, five spots behind current Black Hawk forward Blake Winiecki and two picks in front of University of Minnesota commit and Black Hawk affiliate player Jack Ramsey. Waterloo also drafted Friedman's North York Ranger teammate Brandon Salerno in 2012.
"My dad (Mas) saw him with the Don Mills Flyers (AAA Midget program in Ontario) and we followed him through junior hockey to North York where he and B.J. Salerno were playing," Fukushima said. "We just followed his progress."
Friedman's value to the Black Hawks was shown no more than during his absence from Feb. 21 to March 14 when he came down with mono. In the first five games without him, Waterloo went 2-2-1 before winning its last three games without him in the lineup.
"When we didn't have him it showed," O'Handley said. "The amount of minutes he plays ... 22, 23 minutes a game and the key times. The defensive face offs, penalty kills ... when you don't have that, it certainly shows."
Friedman says the doctor who diagnosed him with mono said he probably played with it for a week, maybe two weeks before Friedman visited his office.
"I felt really tired but ...," Friedman said. "It was actually after a game in Sioux City we lost in overtime or a shootout. I have never fallen asleep so fast after a game on the bus so I knew something was wrong. The next day the doc said I had mono."
Since returning to the lineup, Freidman has upped his game.
"If you look at the second half of the season, since he has returned, his physicality has went way up," O'Handley said. "He has taken on some bigger players and has done a good job with it. I think he is enjoying the fact he is able to do that and it has helped our team and helped his stock."
Friedman says he and the team will have to elevate their game against Sioux City.
"Stay with our game plan," he said. "That is what coach has been telling us. He says Sioux City has a great team, but if we match their effort we can beat them."