Alec Rauhauser is ready to take the next step.
After spending four seasons piling up a mountain of accolades while patrolling the blue line at Bowling Green State University, the 25-year-old defenseman is eager to pen the next chapter of his career in the professional ranks after signing a one-year, entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers on March 26.
"It felt really good," Rauhauser told FloridaPanthers.com. "It's something that I've been working for throughout my career. To finally get an opportunity to do that with the Panthers was very special."
A consistent point-producer from the backend, Rauhauser ended his career at Bowling Green with 122 points (29 goals, 93 assists) in 159 games -- the ninth-most points by a blueliner in the school's history.
As a senior, he led the Falcons in scoring with 35 points (11 goals, 24 assists) and was named the top player at his position in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, an award he previously won as a sophomore when he led the team and ranked second in the nation for points by a defenseman with 39.
Looking back, Rauhauser believes that sophomore campaign was a major turning point in his career.
"Sophomore year was kind of my breakout year," he said. "That's when I realized that I could play with some of the best players in college hockey. It gave me some confidence for the rest of my career."
Entering his senior season, Rauhauser was named captain of the Falcons.
"There's obviously been some great captains that have come through Bowling Green," he said. "Just to be named captain of such a storied program was a big honor for me. I just tried to do my best all year."
Like so many other athletes around the world, Rauhauser's 2019-20 campaign was cut short by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. After helping Bowling Green return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1990 as a junior in 2018-19, he appeared to have the Falcons headed for a repeat appearance this year.
Prior to the NCAA cancelling the remainder of its winter season, the Falcons (21-13-4) were a team on fire. They'd gone 10 straight games without suffering a loss, had just swept Alaska in the first round of the WCHA Playoffs and were preparing to face off against 11th-ranked Bemidji State in the semifinals.
Still, despite the abrupt end to his collegiate career, Rauhauser has no regrets.
"The last two years were just really good," Rauhauser said. "We made the tournament during my junior year, which was something we hadn't done here at Bowling Green for a very long time. That was really special. Obviously this isn't how I wanted to end it, but I understand with everything going on now."
But with an ending also comes a new beginning.
When asked about his decision to sign with the Panthers, Rauhauser, who exited college as a free agent after going undrafted, said the two biggest selling points for him were opportunity and familiarity. It was an organization he believed he could grow with, while doing so alongside a good friend in Ryan Bednard.
A former teammate and roommate of Rauhauser's at Bowling Green, Bednard just wrapped his first professional season as a goaltender, spending time with Florida's affiliates in both the AHL and ECHL.
"He said he loves the organization," Rauhauser said of Bednard. "Having someone like him to talk to and get some knowledge on what it's like down there, it was good to hear from him and hear that he loves it."
Is there a chance the two could become roommates once again? Rauhauser is open to the idea.
"That'd be nice to live with Ryan again," he said. "We'll see what happens."
As for his immediate next steps, Rauhauser is currently quarantining back at Bowling Green with a few of his former teammates. He's been able to work out regularly and, like the rest of the hockey world, is simply waiting for the greenlight to eventually return to the ice and start getting back into game-shape.
In addition to polishing his already impressive arsenal on offense, he's working hard to round out all aspects of his game. Starring on both special teams units with the Falcons this season, he led the WCHA in assists on the power play (17), while also finishing tied for first in the nation in shorthanded goals (3).
"I'd like to be able to be counted on in every situation," Rauhauser said. "That's what I've been trying to do over my four years here, and I think I've done that. I want to translate that to pro hockey and play in all situations there too as well."
Even before he makes his pro debut, however, Rauhauser is already a success story back home.
A native of Bismarck, North Dakota, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound rearguard is somewhat of an anomaly. Despite being home to the powerhouse North Dakota University - which has captured eight NCAA championships - only 15 players born in the state have ever laced up their skates in an NHL game.
But with an NHL contract now in his hands, Rauhauser hopes to one day become No. 16.
"When I first signed I had a lot of people reach out telling me how proud they were, even some younger kids too," Rauhauser said. "We want to grow the game a little bit in North Dakota, show kids that if you work hard you can make it to college and then hopefully sign an NHL contract and play in the NHL."
*Photo Credit: Bowling Green State University*