Following in their father's footsteps is a goal many sons share, but what about following in their fathers blade-tracks? This is what sophomore Justin Wells is doing as a second-generation Falcon hockey player.
Justin's father, Jeff Wells, started not on a rink but on the frozen St. Lawrence River in Brockville, Ontario. Jeff’s uncle, a scout for the NHL’s Hartford Whalers, lived in a house on the river. His uncle had a profound impact on his hockey career.
“He encouraged me to play college hockey,” Jeff said. “The opportunity to get a college education and play a high level of hockey was difficult to pass up.”
In 1990, Jeff decided to enroll at the University rather than play junior hockey. This is where he would develop as a hockey player, get a college degree and meet his future wife, Julie.
“I had a great four years at BG. BG gave me everything in my life,” he said.
During his time as a Falcon, Jeff was a standout defenseman, earning All-American honors as a senior in 1993-94.
“Jeff was unbelievable,” AJ Plaskey, a teammate of Wells at Bowling Green from 1990 to 1994 said. “A great leader and player but even a better person. Obviously, a very solid ‘D’ man that did a lot of great things for the team and program. Very sound in our own end but could jump in the offensive play to create a spark offensively. Very impressive player that deserved the All-American honors that he received.”
This success parlayed into a 13-year professional career in leagues such as the American Hockey League, ECHL, International Hockey League and Canadian Hockey League.
Eventually, Jeff hung up the skates and had two sons with Julie: Justin and Andrew.
While the boys were growing up, the parents brought them around their alma mater, but they did not pressure them to choose Bowling Green themselves.
“They didn't pressure me at all; they really left it up to me,” Justin said. “They came to the other visits with me to see. They just said make your choice when you want to make it.”
Little did Jeff know, almost 30 years after he laced up for the Falcons, his son Justin would also decide to play hockey for the University.
“In my heart, yes ...” Jeff admitted preferring his son choose the Falcons, “but Julie and I never pressured him. We had our experience at BG, and we wanted to make sure that he was comfortable wherever he went. BG is a special place,” he said.
The trips from North Canton, where the family lives, to Bowling Green when Justin was young made a lasting impression on him.
“We’d come to about a game a year,” Justin said. “We’d always go to Mr. Spots to get a cheesesteak and waffle fries. It was a big thing when I came here. It was exciting to be with the band and the college atmosphere.”
It was spending time where his father was once a player that made Justin want to be a Falcon one day, too.
Once he grew up, Justin had the task of visiting colleges on his own. He visited a few east coast schools, namely Cornell and Boston College, along with Bowling Green.
In an article by Patricia Faulhaber for The Suburbanite, she said, “Justin’s long-term goals include getting a hockey scholarship to go to college and then later getting drafted into the NHL. He is already being pursued by a number of colleges such as Cornell, Harvard, Bowling Green, Miami and Boston.”
There was a connection at Boston College for Justin, as current BC coach Jerry York coached Jeff at Bowling Green in the ‘90s, but it didn't compare to the chance to be a Falcon like his dad.
“I was 17 when I committed. It was pretty easy once I saw everything, talked to the coaches, talked about what they saw in me and what I could become. Then seeing the facilities and growing up around the campus, it fit well for me,” Justin said. “My dad played in the same arena and got dressed in the same locker room. I think it's a pretty cool thing that I'm able to play where he played back in the ‘90s.”
With Justin following in his father’s footsteps, he didn’t feel pressure trying to follow up the All-American.
“Sometimes it's hard, especially with my dad. He was really offensive and put up a lot of numbers here. He was a really good player. It's a unique thing; I don't think a lot of people can say they played where their dad played. I don't feel pressure because I'm a different player than my dad,” Justin said.
Jeff made sure his son knew he was his own player and had his own career path. He did not have to play like his father and had his own style. While Jeff was more of an offensive defenseman, Justin is more of a power, stay-home defenseman.
“Justin’s a good teammate and motivates the other guys. He has good vision on the ice and makes good passes,” sophomore forward Brandon Kruse said.
Jeff was a proud father as his son was given the opportunity to be a collegiate athlete.
“We were excited because this is something that he worked very hard for. He, like all players, gave up a lot while playing travel hockey. To be rewarded and have the opportunity to be a student-athlete is special. His grandfather is a BG alum, and he was probably more excited,” Jeff said.
Jeff is not just a fan of Falcon hockey for the time at school but also for the years after.
“You play with so many people during your time at BG,” Jeff said. “I made some lifelong friendships because of it. It is fun to get together with many of them and share stories of our time at the rink and away from the rink. We were all Falcons together. With such a strong alumni group, I have been able to make friends with fellow hockey players from different eras. Being a part of Falcon hockey is special.”
Justin agrees Falcon hockey is special, and he is at the place he is meant to be.
“I love playing for the fans, playing in the awesome arena and being with the students and the community. Everyone supports us and cheers for us, so it’s just an awesome atmosphere,” Justin said.
This does not mean Jeff’s Bowling Green hockey experience is the same as Justin's.
“The old CCHA was great for a student-athlete. It was a true bus league. Everyone was ‘close.’ It was fun to play Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Miami, Western, Notre Dame year after year. Those were some big names, and when they visited the Madhouse, the building was packed,” Jeff said.
Bringing major schools to Bowling Green tends to deliver more fans, which was evident when Ohio State visited Bowling Green for hockey this season.
Justin agreed if there was one thing he could change, it would be playing in the conference his father did, the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
While it is not possible for Jeff and Julie to make the drive from North Canton to watch every game, especially with Justin’s younger brother still playing travel hockey, the family is still able to watch online.
“We try and get to as many home games as our schedule allows us to,” Jeff said. “ It is an experience to be at the Madhouse on Friday and Saturday nights. Thanks to technology we are able to watch the Falcons on the road and at home when needed. … The community is so important along with the fan base. The University and athletic department provide so much support, and as a parents first, my wife and I feel very comfortable with Justin at BG.”
While Justin is currently majoring in business, Jeff majored in teacher education.
“Like he did when he was in a uniform, Jeff was also a great leader off the ice. His degree in education is an obvious statement that he took his job as a student-athlete very seriously,” Plaskey said.
Jeff credits the University’s great program and still uses his degree today as a principal at Green Middle School in Uniontown, Ohio.
It’s evident that both father and son are happy with their decisions to become Falcons. When other viable options were available, Bowling Green’s hockey and academics stood out.
“I'm really happy,” Justin said. “It's been an unbelievable experience so far. The fans, the games, the school part, the social life, it's all been fun so far and I don't regret it at all.”