Dominick Mersch has learned a lot through hockey — it's a game that can be rewarding, and one that can knock you on your knees.

His father, Mike, was a hockey player, but he died when Dominick was 3 years old.

Dominick was young when it happened, but it still left a hole in his heart. Dominick's older brother, Michael, 8 at the time of their father's passing, quickly became someone for Dominick to look up to and help him into hockey.

"I was pretty young when my dad passed away," Dominick Mersch said. "My brother was the man of the house at 8 or 9 years old, so from a young age showed me the way.

"I also looked towards my Grandpa Mersch and my uncles, and my grandpa is a great man; he is always there to help my family."

In Friday's Lincoln Stars season opener, Mersch will play against his father's last team, the Muskegon Lumberjacks — formerly of the International Hockey League — this time with the honor of being the Stars captain for the 2017-18 season. Carter Long, Austen Long and Collin Peters will serve as assistant captains.

Mersch earned the coveted "C" by a unanimous vote from his teammates for  his vocal leadership in and out of the locker room, something Mersch credits to the support from his brother, his grandfather and the veterans before him.

"(Mersch) is a guy that works and battles his butt off every single day," Stars coach Cody Chupp said. "Whether it is in the weight room, it's on the ice in practice, and not only is he a leader by example, but he is a vocal leader."

Being a leader is something Mersch saw while he was the roommate of Dylan Woolf, who was the Stars' captain last season, and from his brother Michael, who plays with the Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings NHL affiliate) of the American Hockey League.

"There a couple guys that come to mind, actually a few," Mersch said. "My brother, obviously, with him my entire life he has set an example for me which I just learned to pass on to other guys where I can help them out. He works his tail off, he's a good human being and a true guy. He'll tell you how it is.

"Also my old roommate of the last two years, Dylan Woolf, who was our captain last year, really helped me out. He got my head straight and taught me that you have to live a detailed life to be able to live a good life in the hockey world. He's taught me to do the little things and taught me a lot about that over the last two years."

Stars general manager Jon Hull also has been heavily involved in Mersch's life, coaching Michael on Team Illinois and keeping his eye on Dominick. When Hull took over as general manager in 2014-15, his first selection was Dominick with the fifth overall pick in the USHL futures draft.

"From day one, (Hull) was there to help," Mersch said. "We knew each other, he knew my family and my family knew him. We knew it was a good place and he wasn't going to put me in a position to fail in any way, whether it was tough times or good times. He's always been there to help and push me along a little bit more." 

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