Yet nothing prepared him for his second winter in Stevens Point, Wis., a record-breaking freeze-out that forced the temperature to dip below zero a record 57 consecutive days.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Ladd said. “I mean, it’s cold in Bemidji, but I came out here and I’m thinking, ‘I moved south, didn’t I?'”

Ladd was much more prepared for what lay in store during his second season in Stevens Point. Pointers fans are grateful, too, because as fate would have it, they finally had a powerful hockey team to keep them warm through the Polar Vortex.

The junior forward dominated the newly formed Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Conference this year, earning the conference’s first Player of the Year award and being named one of eight finalists for the Sid Watson Award, given annually to the top player in Division III.

“At this level, he’s a pretty dynamic player,” said Pointers coach Chris Brooks, a Division III Coach of the Year finalist. “He’s got elite skill. His puck possession is phenomenal. He’s got great speed. He’s got a great skill set. He can change the pace of a game, his agility and skill set are so good.”

“He’s a guy that can take over a hockey game by himself,” said Shaun McMahon, the color analyst for UW-Stevens Point’s hockey broadcasts for the past eight years. “We’ve seen him do that multiple times during the season.”

Ladd initially thought dominating Division III hockey would come pretty easy.

Languishing on the bench at Division I Bemidji State, where he played just five games in parts of two seasons, wasn’t helping him develop what he hopes will be a career in professional hockey. So he followed his former roommate at Bemidji, Kyle Brodie, to UW-Stevens Point.

He played well his first year, tallying seven goals and 22 points to lead the team, “but you could tell he was trying to find his game a little bit,” McMahon said.

“I think he just thought he was going to come in to the Division III level and make a splash,” Brooks said.

Having discovered for himself that making a splash would require more than just bringing his Division I skills to the rink, Ladd knew he would have to change his approach. The question was, how?

“After the season, coach and I sat down and had a talk,” Ladd said. “He said ‘Physcially, you’re lacking nothing. You’ve got all you need to be an impact player. You’ve just got to get there mentally'”

“I told him I expected him to become one of the top player in Division III,” Brooks said. “It was a big summer for him physically. He came in this year in great shape. And I think he committed to the mental side of the game, too.”

Over the summer, Ladd hired a personal trainer and returned to work at a hockey camp near his hometown of Fenton, Mich. Following Brooks’ advice to return in the fall with more of a sniper’s mentality, he concentrated on finding more ways to score and shooting the puck with a purpose. He studied the critical areas on the ice, finding as many ways to get his shot off in a crowd as open ice.

It was a big adjustment for someone who always prided himself on setting up his teammates, often with some flare.

 “I always had a good shot, but growing up if I had the opportunity to move the puck to another goal-scorer, I was going to make that pretty play,” he said. “Shooting more was another one of those mental things. It does make a big difference. I can’t argue with that.”

Ladd couldn’t argue if he wanted. He scored 13 goals in the Pointers’ first 15 games, leading them to a 13-1-1 start.

“It seemed like at the beginning of the year the puck was just going my way,” he said. “It just seemed natural. They added up quickly and so did my confidence.”

His goals now add up to a team-leading 19, but his playmaking hasn’t suffered. He’s fourth in the nation with 41 points.

Yet Ladd’s ability to control a game still goes beyond getting his name in the scoring summary. McMahon insists his best game of the season came in the Pointers’ 3-0 NCAA quarterfinal win over St. Thomas, when he didn’t score a point until his goal made it 3-0 in the final three minutes.

“He’s just so much more laid back and settled in this year, and I think he’s felt healthier than he did last year, too,” McMahon said. “When he’s wheeling and dealing, he can control the play. We haven’t seen that type of skill player at Stevens Point in 15 or 16 years.”

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, UW-Stevens Point, owner of four national titles, is back in the Frozen Four for the first time in 16 years. It faces Oswego State in Friday’s second NCAA semifinal (7:30 p.m.).

“We know what’s at stake,” Ladd said. “We know Oswego doesn’t know much about us and we don’t know much about them other than the tape we’ve seen. But we’re confident.”

“The biggest thing is going to be attention to detail,” he added. “Especially in big games like these, all of the little things are going to be difference-makers.”

The Pointers’ biggest difference-maker has attention to detail down cold.


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