Elliot Olshansky, NCAA.com

On December 4, Sam Kuzyk did something that he hadn’t done in some 15 years, he took the ice at 9:30 a.m. for a hockey game, as his Adrian College team faced Concordia (Wis.) on the outdoor ice surface at Michigan Stadium, one week before Michigan and Michigan State set a world record by playing in front of 104,073 fans in “The Big Chill at the Big House.”

While the senior from Winnipeg, Man., was “probably four feet tall or something like that” the last time he had a game at 9:30 in the morning, the experience of playing at a landmark venue like Michigan Stadium was worth it, and not just because Kuzyk had two assists in one of his best games of the season.

“I’ve been very lucky to be part of a lot of cool stuff at Adrian College,” Kuzyk said, “but as far as playing hockey goes, that was the coolest experience of my entire life.”

It’s been a season filled with great experiences for Kuzyk and the Bulldogs. Adrian heads into this weekend’s series against Finlandia with a 13-3-1 overall record, a share of the MCHA lead at 10-1-1 in conference play, and the No. 8 ranking in the most recent USCHO.com Division III poll. While Kuzyk’s on-ice production isn’t what it was in years past – his six points in 14 games are a far cry from the 29-, 35- and 44-point seasons he had in this first three years – Bulldogs coach Ron Fogarty is still getting the kind of contributions he anticipated when he recruited Kuzyk to be part of Adrian’s first NCAA hockey team in 2007.

“When we started this program back in our first season,” Fogarty said, “and we went on the road recruiting, our goal was to obviously try to recruit the best players available for Division III hockey, but at the same time, find as many captains and leaders on their junior teams out there. When you can recruit a lot of captains, you’re going to bring a lot of leaders who have led before. We did that, and we were pretty successful, getting 19 captains for our first-year class. From that, we knew that they would be great ambassadors on and off the ice, in the classroom and the community.”

And, while Kuzyk doesn’t wear a letter for the Bulldogs on the ice, he’s certainly shown himself to be a leader off of it. Kuzyk is one of just two returning finalists for the Hockey Humanitarian Award, which honors an NCAA hockey player who “most personifies true community spirit through selfless commitment of leadership, effort and time,” and has been nominated for the award again this season.

For Kuzyk, the honor may have come for his work at Adrian, but his efforts started back home in Winnipeg.

“My family, we believe in helping out your neighbor,” Kuzyk said. “We try to give back in our own ways at home, and it was just something that translated here to Adrian.”

Given the way tough economic times have affected the state of Michigan, there’s certainly plenty of room for humanitarian contribution, and Kuzyk is doing his part. This weekend, when the Bulldogs host Finlandia at Arrington Ice Arena, the team will hold its second annual “Help Hockey Heal Hunger” food drive. The first food drive, held around Thanksgiving last season, collected 267 much-needed items for the St. Mary’s Catholic Church Food Pantry.

“I was fairly happy with what we were able to give them,” Kuzyk said. “The need that they have is unbelievable. It’s something that maybe you’re not exposed to every day, or you don’t see, but when it’s laid out in front of you, and numbers are put to it, I’m glad we were able to do it, but I wish we could have done more.”

Kuzyk has also led his Bulldog teammates in contributing at the individual level, as the team has worked with the local chapter of the Salvation Army to support a local family in each of the last two seasons.

“I’d heard of those programs before,” Kuzyk said, “and I called the Salvation Army. I asked if that they had any families that needed sponsoring, and Adrian’s like any other town. There are people that are struggling. So, we were given a family, and as players, we donated money out of our own pockets, and then some other fans and representatives of the team also chipped in some money, and we were able to put together a pretty nice package for them of gifts, clothing and food. The bookstore helped us out a little bit, too; we were able to donate Adrian College clothing. It was a good package, and I hope it brightened up their Christmas a little bit.

“We have no contact with those families. We’re not sure who they are, and that’s fine. We hope it helped out.”

Not looking for the glory but just trying to help is pretty much how it’s done at Adrian.

“We don’t look for the press,” Fogarty said, “We look for the smiling faces around town when they see an Adrian College person, or obviously, an Adrian College hockey player.”

And, no matter what Sam Kuzyk does with his business marketing degree when his NCAA hockey career comes to a close, it’s a good bet that he’ll keep putting smiles on faces wherever he goes.