Dubuque Fighting Saints second-year defenseman Ian Pierce recently committed to play NCAA Division I hockey at Dartmouth College.

Ian Pierce decided to do a little soul searching early in his first full season with the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

The initial adjustment to the United States Hockey League last season didn’t go quite as smoothly as he anticipated, which made ice time hard to come by for the 5-foot-9, 185-pound defenseman from New York City.

“It all started with a decision,” Pierce said. “I had to ask myself, ‘Can I do this? Do I want to be here?’ And ‘How bad do I want this?’ Once I decided this was what I was going to stick to, I learned something about myself that most people don’t get to find.

“There was a mental challenge of sticking with it. It was nerve-wracking to go to the rink and not know if you were going to be in the lineup. I had two options every day: I could quit or mope around or sulk, or I could do whatever it takes to be the best I can be. I asked myself those questions every day, and I decided to work hard enough not just to earn playing time but to make an impact as a role model and a leader.”

By the end of last season, Pierce developed into one of the Saints’ steadiest defenders and ice time was no longer an issue. He contributed seven assists in 35 games for a team that finished second overall in the USHL.

This week, that hard work paid off again for Pierce. The second-year defenseman committed to play Ivy League hockey next season at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

“Ian is a triple threat as far as setting himself up for success in life,” Saints coach Oliver David said. “He’s an Ivy League-level student and athlete, and he’s an even better person. He has all the qualities a coach would want in a player or a business would want in an employee. Dartmouth is really going to benefit from having him.”

Pierce established himself as an extremely gifted skater with exceptional on-ice vision to make plays offensively and the ability to break-up plays and win pucks back defensively. But that skill set didn’t immediately translate to the USHL.

So, he put in extra time before and after practice with assistant coach Evan Dixon to work on his game. By the end of last season, his confidence showed.

“It definitely took time and work and extra reps to get to that point where I felt confident in my game,” Pierce said. “When I did get my chances, I felt optimistic about it, and I felt ready because of all the extra things I did off the ice. The coaches definitely had a lot to do with it with all the video work and extra reps we put in.”

Pierce said he set his sights on an Ivy League school at an early age. And he feels confident in his ability to handle the academic work while playing NCAA Division I hockey after attending Kent, a prestigious prep school in Connecticut.

“It was academically very grueling — a lot of late nights and early mornings — but I don’t regret a thing. It was the best experience of my life,” said Pierce, who plans to study economics at Dartmouth. “That gave me a really good idea of what it’s like to balance a schedule with hockey and academics. I know what I’m walking into, and I’m excited for it.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to go to an Ivy League school. I set my mind to it at an young age, and it’s exactly what I want to pursue.”