In a basement on Grand Island, several hockey sticks hang vertically from ropes tied to the ceiling. Meant for stick-handling purposes, this rigged setup is what Andrew Husted remembers as one of his first memories of his hockey career.
“I would stick handle around and shoot day in and day out,” Husted said. “I would train with my stepfather, Carl Amato, who I owe a lot of credit to. ... He trained me as much as he could.”
For Husted, these early days of training helped pave his road through the high school hockey scene, the Buffalo Jr. Sabres, the NAHL’s New Jersey Vikings and now, Division III with Buffalo State Bengals.
The roots planted in that basement that have helped sprout a promising hockey career. Husted finished his freshman season with 18 points (9 goals, 9 assists) in 23 games and the title of SUNYAC Men’s Hockey Rookie of the Year.
Originally from Niagara Falls, Husted spent most of his youth career playing for the Niagara-Wheatfield Blades, being coached by Scott Butler while skating alongside Butler's son, Colin.
From the Blades to the Buffalo Stars to one year of high school hockey, Husted has been all over the area. The number of hockey teams in the area has worked to his benefit, as he was able to follow coaches and teammates across the local hockey scene.
However, if you ask Husted, it is his local roots from his early days playing for the Blades that have prepared him best for the levels of competition that followed.
"It's where I was able to garner my skill," Husted said. "I took everything I learned going up and carried it with me throughout my playing career."
His first journey playing hockey outside of the Western New York was his first major test.
"The NAHL is one of the premier leagues in the country," Husted said. "There, it was less about the skill and more about the work ethic. ... The skills garnered can only take you so far."
Husted noted that a combination of what he learned on the local hockey scene and his experience playing junior hockey is what prepared him for the highest level of hockey he's ever played at Buffalo State.
The D-3 level, he said, is against players in the same position as himself, who took the path through high school and juniors.
This journey, from high school to junior leagues throughout North America and back to competition affiliated with an educational institution, is commonplace for players serious enough to let their education take a backseat to hockey. Husted's journey has taken him from one of the top dogs in juniors to one of the brightest freshmen faces on the D-3 scene.
Even though the NAHL prepared him for the level of collegiate hockey, Husted still notes adjustments he had to make at Buffalo State.
"There was definitely a learning curve coming from the Titans to Buff State," Husted said. "There's a lot of guys at this level who have been in the league a while and have the experience."
Husted went on to cite one of his teammates, Ontario native Mac Wood, as having helped him get to his current level.
"He's always been prepared and prepares for craft professionally," Husted said. "Me and him have garnered a pretty good relationship in the locker room."
Wood was recently named to the third team All-SUNYAC in February. The Bengals' season ended with a 3-2 playoff loss to Fredonia on Feb. 20.
With players like Husted, they'll hope for better in the future.
"We have what it takes to win," Husted said. "We have the tools to be successful, we just need to utilize better."