Big Rapids, Mich. - Former Ferris State University defenseman Chad Billins (Marysville), who helped captain the Bulldogs' historic 2011-12 squad that reached the national championship game at the NCAA Frozen Four, officially became the 11th former Bulldog skater to play in the National Hockey League (NHL) when he made his debut on hockey's biggest stage with the Calgary Flames on Tuesday (Nov. 5) night.
Billins not only appeared in his first NHL game after being called up over the weekend, but he also registered his first point with an assist on the first goal of the contest in only his second shift on the ice. He teamed up with Lance Bouma to provide the helpers on Jiri Hudler's wrist shot at 5:24 of the first period in the Flames' 5-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild before 17,708 fans at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. The assist came on Calgary's lone goal of the night and Billins saw nearly 11 minutes of total time on the ice with one block.
By playing in his first official contest, Billins joins past Bulldog players including forward Chris Kunitz, wing Dean Clark, defenseman Mike Colman, defenseman Jason Blake, defenseman Dave Karpa, defenseman John Gruden, defenseman Andy Roach, forward Rob Collins, forward Greg Rallo and defenseman Zach Redmond as former Ferris State players to appear in the NHL.
Last season, three different former Bulldogs saw action in the NHL. Kunitz was tabbed as one of six NHL First-Team All-Stars while playing on one of professional hockey's top lines with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Meanwhile, Rallo saw action in his second stint with the Florida Panthers and Redmond made his official debut with the Winnipeg Jets.
In addition to the 11 former players who've reached the NHL, a number of former Bulldog hockey players have continued their careers in the professional ranks at various levels across North America and beyond. This past summer, a record number of more than 20 former Ferris State skaters signed new professional contracts in the offseason.
Billins, a defenseman who was signed as a free agent this past summer, was in his first season with the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League (AHL) and had tallied a team-high five goals and six points in 10 contests this season before being called up for the first time on Friday.
Last season, Billins played a key role as the Grand Rapids Griffins claimed the 2013 AHL Calder Cup Championship by beating the Syracuse Crunch under another former Bulldog alum in head coach Jeff Blashill. It was the first title in the 17-year history of the franchise and a Detroit Red Wings farm team's first title since Adirondack captured the Cup in 1982. It was the first-ever championship in nearly 30 seasons of professional hockey in Grand Rapids and came in the longest AHL season ever.
Billins helped set the tone with an assist on the first goal of the title series and finished the Calder Cup Playoffs with a pair of goals and 12 assists for 14 total points along with a +5 plus/minus efficiency rating. The Grand Rapids rookie led all AHL defenseman in playoff scoring last season. During regular-season action, Billins totaled 37 points on 10 goals and a team second-best 27 assists in 76 contests. He placed sixth among the team's scoring leaders while recording seven power-play goals.
Billins joined the Griffins after wrapping up his senior campaign as both an All-American on the ice and an Academic All-American for his work in the classroom while helping the Bulldogs to their first-ever NCAA Frozen Four appearance and a national runner-up effort in 2011-12. A native of Marysville, Mich., Billins logged 29 points (7-22—29) and 24 penalty minutes in 43 games with the Bulldogs as a senior while claiming American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA) All-America Second Team plaudits on the ice.
The veteran defenseman served as a co-captain for the Bulldogs during the team's run to the NCAA Frozen Four, where they were defeated in the championship game by Boston College. The 5-10, 175-pound defenseman skated in 149 games in four years with Ferris State, notching 67 points (17-50—67) and 108 penalty minutes.
Billins was recognized in his final season as both a All-CCHA First Team recipient and the winner of the CCHA's prestigious Scholar-Athlete Award as the Bulldogs claimed the school's second-ever league regular-season crown. He placed second among CCHA defensemen with 25 points (7-18—25) in 31 conference games. In 2011-12, Billins was also a finalist for the Lowe's Senior CLASS award and earned a spot on the Senior CLASS All-America Team, which rewards academic success and the loyalty of seniors that honored their four-year commitment to their university.
Prior to his collegiate career, the 24-year-old defenseman skated for the USHL's Waterloo Black Hawks in 2007-08 and finished fourth among the league's defensemen with 36 points (10-26—36) in 60 games. Billins also played 62 games for the Alpena IceDiggers of the NAHL from 2005-07, totaling 25 points (7-18—25) and 98 penalty minutes.