BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Bridgewater native Alec Marsh is winding down his college hockey career at Penn State University.
The senior forward has only a few months left until graduation, and less time until he hangs up his Nittany Lions sweater for the final time.
The 23-year-old 5-foot-10, 201-pound left wing got his start skating in his hometown.
Born and raised in Bridgewater, Marsh started in hockey leagues at Bridgewater Sports Arena and the now-defunct Chimney Rock Rink, tagging along with his father, Gregory, who played in men’s house leagues. When Chimney Rock moved its operations to Dunellen, Marsh spent more time at that rink, developing his skills.
“I spent summers there for two years,” he said.
From there, he played youth hockey with the New Jersey Colonials in Morristown, and the Mercer Chiefs out of Hamilton. He saw his greatest in-state success with the New Jersey Rockets organization, which skates out of the Prudential Center in Newark.
After starring with the Rockets’ junior squad, Marsh decided to further his career outside New Jersey following his sophomore year of high school in the prestigious United States Hockey League, the top preparatory circuit for aspiring NCAA Division 1 ice hockey players.
“I got drafted at 16 by the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders,” he said. “I went out for their main camp in June, and honestly didn’t think I would make the team.”
Told he needed to get stronger and faster to play against 19-and even 20-year-old opponents, the then 160-pound Marsh returned to Iowa for another camp in late August that year. The RoughRiders began preparing Marsh to join their squad and also attend high school in town.
“I talked to my parents and my coach back home,” he said. “There were no guarantees about playing in every game, but I thought it was the best move for my development, and it turned out great.”
Marsh said the blow of moving 1,000 miles west to play junior hockey was softened by the host family he was paired up to live with in Iowa, a staple of the junior hockey ranks for those skaters who play away from their hometowns.
“I had a really good host family, with great kids, and it was a friendly environment” he said. “My roommate was from California, and we had a basement apartment. It was a comfortable environment with great people.”
Marsh played two full seasons with Cedar Rapids and part of a third before splitting his final junior campaign in the Dakotas between the Sioux Falls Stampede and the Fargo Force. In 147 career USHL contests, he recorded 28 goals and 44 assists for 72 points to go with 128 penalty minutes.
Academically, Marsh started off in New Jersey by attending school at St. Ann in Raritan, where his mother, Patricia, is a teacher. He studied there from kindergarten through fifth grade, and then spent two years at Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School.
He returned to St. Ann, before moving on to Seton Hall Prep and then Immaculata High School in Somerville for a year apiece. He ultimately graduated from Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, while playing for the RoughRiders.
When it came time to choose a college, Marsh was set on going to Happy Valley, Pennsylvania – or Hockey Valley, as it’s called now. While he was beginning his junior career, Penn State was upgrading its longtime powerhouse club hockey program to full NCAA Division 1 status.
“I made an unofficial visit when I was 15,” said Marsh. “In high school, I was waiting for (Penn State) to make an offer, and when they did, I took it right away (in 2014).”
As a college freshman in 2015–2016, Marsh put up a career-high seven goals and 21 points in 37 games, and had at least one point in each of his first six NCAA games. He then recorded six goals and 10 points in 26 games as a sophomore as Penn State won its first-ever Big Ten Conference hockey tournament title in Detroit.
“The Big Ten title was unbelievable,” said Marsh. “I’m so close to these guys as a team, and the culture at Penn State is unbelievable. Our skills are getting better and better, the people are great and I’ve had so many memories here, it’s hard to pick just one.”
By Valentine’s Day this year, Marsh had scored six goals and set up six others for a total of 12 points in his first 23 games so far this season. In his first 121-career contests up until then with Penn State, he had tallied 21 goals and 31 assists for 52 points, to go along with 82 penalty minutes.
Marsh said he feels he can play anywhere as a forward in Penn State’s lineup and contribute whatever might be needed, whether it’s scoring goals or playing strong defense.
“I like to play a 200-foot game, blocking shots and back checking,” he said. “I like to lead by example and work ethic.”
The Nittany Lions have played in two NHL venues so far this season, the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Dec. 15, and Madison Square Garden in Manhattan on Jan. 26. With nearly two dozen members of his family on hand and 10,000 spectators in the crowd both times, Marsh scored a goal in each of those games, a 4–4 tie with Princeton in Philadelphia and a 5–2 win over host school Michigan at MSG.
“It was cool,” said Marsh, who has now played at MSG twice in his college career. “You have a little more jump in your game. It’s an unbelievable environment. I thought we were the home team against Michigan, with so many Penn State people there.”
With the clock counting down on both his college career and his time at Penn State, Marsh is understandably wistful about the past four years.
“It’s bittersweet, and it’s also made me a little hungry every night,” he said. “You never know when your last game will be, and it gives you more incentive to work harder and make every second count.”
“It’s hard to believe (it’s almost over), but I’ve had a great time the last four years,” he added.
Playing professionally will hopefully be on the docket after he graduates.
“I’ll give it a shot next year, and see if I can play here or overseas,” he said. “I definitely want to give it a shot at playing pro hockey.”
Once he hangs up his competitive skates, Marsh hinted he might like to get into coaching, at least on a part-time basis. A criminology major, he’s also gotten a first-hand look at a possible career in law enforcement from a family member.
Wherever he winds up, Marsh will be sure to beat a path back to Bridgewater every now and then.
“Every summer, I’ll be there,” he said. “I’ll come home for sure.”