OXFORD, Ohio – Watching even a single shift of Karch Bachman on the ice, one area of his game stands out immediately: Speed.
But as evolved as that aspect is, his teammates and head coach point out another attribute they say is on par with his skating: Bachman’s work ethic.
That’s quite the compliment, since most game nights, the 5-feet, 10-inch senior left wing is easily the fastest skater on either side, and that skating ability is a key reason he was drafted by the Florida Panthers 132nd overall in the fifth-round of the 2015 NHL draft.
“The way he works, and in practice it’s every single day, he never takes a rep off,” senior goalie Ryan Larkin said. “When you see a guy like that, you know he’s going to get better and be more impressive every time he steps on the ice.”
Then there’s his shot, one of the hardest on the team, which has resulted in 27 career goals, the second highest total of any current RedHawk.
“It’s hard not to notice him with his skating, and then the second layer is he shoots the puck as good as anybody, in terms of the velocity of it, and he can get it off pretty quick when he’s on top of his game,” Miami coach Chris Bergeron said. “But I think the work ethic and the skating are the two things that get your attention first.”
Bachman was born and still lives in tiny Wolcottville, Ind., population 998, a half-Amish town 40 miles north of Fort Wayne.
The Bachmans went to Fort Wayne Komets games when Karch was a toddler, and Karch remembers sitting on his father’s lap while watching the action.
His father, Kurt, is an attorney who at the time represented the players’ union for the Komets.
One day during the heart of winter, Bachman decided he wanted to give hockey a shot.
“So we got the five-gallon bucket out and I flipped it over and pushed that around, and that’s how I started skating,” Bachman said.
Kurt, at 5-feet, 7-inches, a nose tackle for Division III Tabor College known for his quickness, may have passed that trait along to Karch, whose skating prowess was evident almost immediately.
“I don’t know if I got it from him – he says that I didn’t, but I think that there’s a little bit of that there for sure,” Bachman said. “It’s definitely something that I think I was fortunate enough to be born with, there’s other areas of my game, as an athlete, that I’ve had to work on harder, but speed – something that I’ve always worked on – but it’s a God-given talent. A little bit of both: Definitely born with it but it’s something that I’ve obviously been a step ahead of most guys along my path, so just making sure that I stay a step ahead or two is the important part.”
A self-described skinny and scrawny kid growing up, Bachman also exceled at long-distance running, which may have helped him develop into such an elusive skater. Soccer was another sport at which Bachman shined, and he said in his youth he was actually better at soccer than hockey.
Lacking Bantam and Midget programs in his area, Bachman was forced north to hone his skills in Michigan. In two Bantam seasons, he recorded 65 points in 54 games, including 34 goals with Little Caesar’s and Belle Tire.
“Taking a step to Detroit was obviously a huge step for my family,” Bachman said. “We had tons of travel – I remember those conversations I had with my parents. What started out as a two-hour round trip to Battle Creek and then a little over two hours to Kalamazoo and once I was good enough I started playing with kids my own age finally, and spent seven years playing in Detroit, and that was a seven-hour round trip, and we did that three days a week. So just crazy travel and commitment from my parents.”
It was during those adolescent years that Bachman realized he may have a future playing hockey.
“I never had the hands in tight, I wasn’t stronger and bigger than everybody but I was fast and could shoot the puck,” Bachman said. “Outside of that I didn’t have a whole lot rounding out my game, but I could compete at that level with those two skills, primarily.”
The next step for most hockey prospects in the USHL, but rather than follow the traditional juniors route, Bachman chose military school at Culver Academy, 75 miles to the southwest of Wolcottville.
Culver has produced NHL star Ryan Suter as well as his uncle, Gary Suter, John-Michael Liles, Blake Geoffrion and Nic Dowd.
Former Miamians Todd Channell and Brian Sipotz also attended Culver.
“It was the best time of my life,” Bachman said. “Going away to military school sounds like a terrible thing to some people, but it really was amazing. I applied there, wasn’t sure if I was going to get to go, or if we could afford it. It just worked out and I never really wanted to leave, to be honest with you. Looking back, it definitely helps my game on the ice for sure, because while a lot of guys were playing in juniors, I was able to hold onto the puck a little more and control the game a little bit more at the high school level.”
While Culver’s Tier I, HPHL hockey program is excellent, it is a step below the USHL, so Bachman was essentially playing at a slightly lower level than if he had chosen juniors.
In 98 games for the Eagles, Bachman scored 69 goals and dished for 53 assists, including a 36-goal sophomore season.
He graduated in three years, posting a grade-point average of 3.5 or above each year.
“Definitely outside of hockey it rounded me out as a person as well,” Bachman said. “Military aspect is a ton of discipline and hard work. School was another thing that my mom (Roxanne) emphasized, as a teacher. If I’m not working hard in the classroom she’s usually staying on top of me. That’s kind of where I got the drive in the classroom, and that stuck with me through high school and college as well.”
That summer Bachman was drafted by the Florida Panthers, as he is the only current Miami player that has been selected by an NHL team.
To that point, Bachman’s experience in juniors was four games: Two with Tri-City, which had drafted him in the USHL, and two with the U.S. National Development’s Under-18 squad.
Tri-City traded Bachman to Green Bay, which is where he started the 2015-16 campaign. It would be Bachman’s lone season in juniors, but he dressed for three teams.
After just five games in Green Bay, the Gamblers had become frustrated with his high school habit of holding the puck too long, and he was dealt to Chicago, where he scored 11 times in 24 contests.
Late that season he was shipped to Cedar Rapids for that team’s playoff run, but he played just six games before being injured.
“It was kind of a whirlwind of a year, dealt with a little bit of injuries, but I got to see a lot of the midwest, that’s for sure,” Bachman said.
At the end of his freshman year of high school, Bachman committed to Miami. A potential NHL draftee at the time, his NCAA services were already in high demand at that point, and he has he was on the phone with coaches of Division I schools constantly, and his college choices were plentiful.
“There were a few factors that played a role,” Bachman said. “One, the campus reminded me of Culver. I had such a love for Culver that when I saw all the matching brick buildings and the little town out in the middle of nowhere, it had that kind of Culver feel to me, which I loved. And I’d say the biggest factor was The Brotherhood. We emphasize a similar thing at Culver…living in the barracks together. We were going to lunch, lifting, playing on the same team, having classes together – we were always together at Culver and I loved that aspect. It was like a Brotherhood. So when (Coaches Enrico Blasi, Nick Petraglia and Brent Brekke) kind of pitched that me when I came here, I kind of fell in love with that idea. It was something that I really appreciated from high school and I wanted it to carry over into college, too.”
Bachman said that keeping up with military school and hockey, and then having nearly nightly talks with potential college suitors was almost overwhelming.
“So when I found a place I really wanted to be at, I canceled my other visits and decided I was going to come to Miami,” Bachman said.
Heading into his freshman season, Bachman was coming off reconstructive shoulder surgery, and he was not cleared to play until a week before the 2016-17 season started.
Largely for that reason, Bachman’s RedHawks career started slowly. After scoring well over 100 goals in his previous six seasons of organized hockey, he was limited to two in 34 games his freshman year, plus four assists.
“By no means should (shoulder surgery) be an excuse for why my numbers were what they were or why I had the year that I did, but I definitely battled through that for sure,” Bachman said. “Then transitioning to the college game, similar to transitioning to juniors, took me a sec. It was a little bit faster, a little bit stronger, and I kind of felt like I was playing catch-up most of the year, just coming off of that injury.”
Larkin noticed his impact right away.
“You could tell he was a worker and he battles,” Larkin said. “He’s gone through injuries and had his share of time in (trainer) Drew (Ruckelshaus‘) room, but the fact that he’s on the ice every single day, seems to never miss a game and he’s always constantly working and he’s a good leader for this team now. But freshman year was just kind of putting his nose down and going to work, and you could tell that he wanted to better himself every day.”
Bachman – who had boasted success at every level to that point – said his freshman season was one of the most difficult experiences of his life, either on or off the ice.
“I think it was a good learning experience for me,” Bachman said. “I had never really struggled in the game of hockey up until my freshman year, and that was kind of a wake-up call for me that I need to bring it every day in practice, change some of my habits if I want to be an impact player at this level and hopefully the next level some day. I had to switch some things about my game.”
In 2017-18, it took Bachman just 12 games to reach his rookie total of six points. Playing in all 37 games, he finished with a line of 7-9-16, nearly tripling his Year 1 points output, and he was thrilled with the jump in production.
“My health was the biggest thing,” Bachman said. “Getting healthy and having a summer to take care of my body was really important for me.”
As a junior, Bachman tied for second on the team with 10 goals, scoring in three of the first four games of the season and adding two in the season finale, matching his sophomore total in points with 16.
This season, Bachman has blown away his previous career high in assists and points. He has 15 helpers – as many as he had his sophomore and juniors years combined – and he already has 25 points.
“Obviously his speed stands out but I think his shot has gotten a lot better and his hockey sense has gotten a lot better,” Larkin said. “He’s a student of the game and wants to learn.
“With more technology coming into the game, every team’s watching video and every team’s got a scouting lineup of who the dangerous players are and what their strengths are, and through three years it’s been, watch out for his shot. But now that everyone’s prepared for his shot, once he moves (the puck) it seems to throw everyone off and I think it’s been a huge advantage to his game.”
And while he has made strides in the passing game, he is one of the best in college hockey at generating shots. With 116 on the season, he leads the team in SOG by 49, and he has twice as many shots as any forward on the team.
He is No. 13 in Division I and third in the NCHC.
“When things are going right, he’s north of five (shots) because…he is around the other team’s net a bunch,” Bergeron said. “There’s times where we’re trying to get him to be a little more selective of shooting a puck or just throwing a puck at the opponent’s net versus possessing it for another second or two and distribute, but he can distribute the puck, he can make other players around him better. I think him skating and shooting gets your attention more, but there is playmaking there as well and I’m trying to stay on him to not underestimate that.”
Bergeron had only seen him play in three games prior to this season: One time at Culver and a weekend series when the RedHawks played at Bowling Green two years ago, but he said he didn’t focus on Bachman during the Culver visit because he was already committed to Miami at the time.
But Bergeron, who was hired by MU last off-season, was immediately impressed with Bachman when he saw him hit the ice this season.
“With the exception of, he’s not going to play center – at least naturally – he’s a guy that can play in all situations,” Bergeron said. “He can be on your first line, asked to score, and he can be on your fourth line in more of a checking role, and special teams, both sides of it. There’s definitely layers to Karch’s game. This year we’ve counted (on) him to be more of an offensive guy, but I know that he’s a guy that can go out there in the last minute of a game and keep the puck out of our net. The consistency he brings every day is a unique part of him as well. He’s a guy that is wired to where he expects greatness all the time: Classroom, weight room, hockey – and that’s a unique thing at his age. He expects himself and people around him to be at a certain level all the time, and I think that’s a trait that’s going to carry him a long way, for sure, after he’s done with his hockey career here.”
Said Larkin: “He’s been a student of the game since he’s gotten here. I don’t think when he got here I would’ve considered him, in my own eyes, a penalty kill guy, but he wants to learn and he wants to be a penalty kill guy and he wants to be on the power play, so he’s constantly learning and he’s constantly taking in as much as he can, no matter if he’s learning from other players or coaches.”
And Bachman’s speed enables him to create many of those offensive opportunities for him and his teammates.
“It’s such a tool,” Bergeron said. “He normally can (not only) attract one guy’s attention, but two and three people because he can skate by the first guy. When the puck gets turned over, whether it’s 5-on-5 or 4-on-5, he’s a guy that can take off and put a bunch of pressure on the opposing D.”
In addition to facing him in practice, Larkin also played against Bachman when both were in Bantam, so he is quite familiar with how his speed disrupts opponents.
“As for an opposing goalie it makes it more difficult because you have to move as quick as he’s moving and make a save while you’re at it,” Larkin said. “It’s been huge for our team that he’s a guy that brings that to our lineup and puts that pressure on opposing defenses.”
Missing just two games his entire RedHawks career, Bachman has played in 139 games, scoring 27 goals and dishing for 36 assists for a total of 63 points.
“It would’ve been great to come in and start off with 30 points your freshman year, but that’s not the route everybody takes, and for me, it did take a little while to transition,” Bachman said. “The emphasis that I had to put in my own head was just that if I could get better every day, whether it be during the season, out of season, during the summer when I’m training, I’d realize emphasize that, because I knew that there was more in me and I still know that there’s more that I can bring to the table. But it was just mentally staying in it and making sure I was progressing every day and taking the right steps to become the player that I knew I could be, and I think (our coaching) staffs we’ve had knew I could be as well.”
Even more impressive than his hockey track record is Bachman’s success in the classroom. He has a 3.9 grade-point average as a finance major.
“That’s something that my mom instilled in me from a young age, and I’ve always liked a challenge in any area of my life,” Bachman said. “For me, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I got to college, but I knew finance was one of the toughest majors I could take, so I took it. Didn’t know much about it, just wanted the challenge, and as a Division I athlete I knew it would even harder. It really pushed me and I got to be exposed to some great things – my focus is investment banking, I may after hockey ends have a decent career ahead of me in that – but I really just enjoyed the challenge and the grind. I’m walking away with something that I should be proud of, for sure.”
As Bachman’s final regular season winds down, he should have no problem finding a pro team to help him develop his game, with his speed, shot and other qualities, not to mention a top-notch compete level.
Of course, every level is tougher, and Bergeron talked about what he needs to improve as his pro career begins.
“I think his play away from the puck,” Bergeron said. “With the puck, he can skate, he’s competitive. Away from the puck, it’s not that he’s not competing, it’s that sometimes he’s not in the moment, he kind of gets drifting a little bit and now all in the sudden he’s out of position, or he’s not on the player he’s supposed to be on. It’s not egregious at this level, but I think at the next level he’s going to be challenged and pushed to be better without the puck and it’s something he’s going to have to make sure that he’s locked in, because everybody else at that level is locked in. I think he wants to play at the American League level and prove that he belongs, and then hopefully go beyond that. That’s a very difficult league, and there’s lots of people that can skate, and there’s lots of people that can shoot the puck hard, but can you put it all together, think it with and without the puck? And that’s probably the biggest thing for me, is without the puck, how much impact can you make? Is he going to be a guy who can be put out there in all situation and be trusted, just like he’s been at this level?”
Regardless of his level of professional success in hockey, with his academic record, Bachman is set up for an excellent pro career in the business world, due largely to his four years at Miami.
“When I first committed here, what was the attraction?” Bachman said. “The campus was beautiful, the Farmer School of Business had a great education, but the reason I committed here was The Brotherhood. It hasn’t been quite what I expected it to be, especially with all the changes that we’ve had, but the thing that I take away from college is the relationships – I know there are so many people that say that – but for me, I was one of those kids that came in and thought I could make it on my own, and that wasn’t the case. I love spending time with the guys, I loved doing all the fun things we did when we were underclassmen, but I really started to rely on those guys, and it became a second family to me. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by great teammates, great people, and if I’m taking anything away from my experience here, anything that I’m really going to miss, it’s the guys that I’ve been around and some of the memories that we’ve created.”