Big Rapids, Mich. - Former Ferris State University men's ice hockey player Chad Billins (Marysville) moved a step closer to the National Hockey League (NHL) on Friday as the Bulldog alum agreed to terms on a one-year, two-way contract with the NHL's Calgary Flames.
The two-way deal allows the Flames the flexibility to move him back and forth between the NHL and their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat. Billins will be invited to Calgary's training camp and have an opportunity to make the team with the entry-level deal worth approximately $832,000 at the NHL level.
This past 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.
"It was definitely an exciting time to win the championship with Grand Rapids," Billins said, in a Port Huron Times Herald article late Friday. "I just can't thank them enough for the opportunity they gave me. I got to enjoy that for a couple weeks, and you'll have that forever, that championship. But it's still a business, too, so then you have to focus on what you're going to do next year."
Billins was originally inked to a one-way deal and would have needed to be re-signed by the Red Wings organization. The Flames have five NHL defenseman under contract along with three others on two-day deals as of Friday.
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 this 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. Billins also received nominations for CCHA's RBC Player of the Year and Best Offensive Defenseman awards.
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.
This past season, three former Ferris State players saw action in the NHL, including NHL First Team All-Star Chris Kunitz of the Pittsburgh Penguins, forward Greg Rallo with the Florida Panthers and defenseman Zach Redmond, who made his debut with the Winnipeg Jets before being sidelined with a major injury and later recalled near the end of the season. Previous Ferris State players to see action in the NHL have also included wing Dean Clark, defenseman Mike Colman, defenseman Jason Blake, defenseman Dave Karpa, defenseman John Gruden, defenseman Andy Roach and forward Rob Collins.
In addition to the 10 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.