Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tribute For The Seniors

The last two home games are upon us. I've appreciated every single last home game of the season since 1984 primarily for one reason. It is the last opportunity to see the Senior class play. This weekend five Seawolves finish their home ice careers. These five guys have done the work on the ice and off the ice to earn the recognition that comes with this weekend's "Senior Night". This is a very specific moment where we as fans can show our appreciation (not for the hockey accomplishments of any specific player) but instead for all their efforts while representing the school.

College sports is about many things. This weekend and this post though is all about thanking these 5 guys for all their hard work. Thanking them for 4 years of practices. Thanking them for the bruises they endured as well as the vicarious thrill for all the fans when they bruise an opponent. It's about thanking them in particular for suffering through the 1 win season but playing with pride nonetheless. It's about thanking them for everything that isn't "wins and losses". I exchanged a couple of emails with former UAA goalie Chris Davis from Calgary and when I mentioned the difficulties of playing through some "tough times" Chris said,
"We had some tough times when I played there, but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. Anchorage is such an awesome place, and if I didn't live here, I would definitely be up there."
Here's hoping that all five of these guys feel the same way in 10 years as Chris does now. The challenges of life are mirrored in sports programs like UAA's all across this country. So few championships and so many participants. Thousands of athletes giving their blood and guts for their school and it's fans with only a very select few getting all the attention. But championships or not and professional contracts or not; the college sports institution is a win for the student-athlete. It's also a win for the school. And of course it's a win for the fans. All that "wins" talk is difficult for me to type sometimes as a Seawolf hockey fan but those sorts of disappoinments are greatly offset for me by the high quality person that college sports creates. And so ultimately it's a win for whatever community a former Seawolf lives in because that town is definitely getting a guy who knows the meaning of the word character. And so here comes five such guys into the world: (in alphabetical order)

Chad Anderson
Chad came to UAA from Tri-City of the USHL where he was a Captain. When he finished his junior career he was Tri-City's all-time leader in games played. During his freshman year at UAA I said that Chad was capable of becoming an All-WCHA caliber defenseman by his Senior year. Well, he has done exactly that. Whether and where he appears on this years WCHA list isn't up to me but there's little doubt that his level of play this season is at that level. Chad is a big guy at 6'4" 218lbs that has always looked good carrying the puck up the ice. But this season he has managed to make that effort a bigger part of his game than past seasons. Chad is a leader having worn both the A and C in his last two seasons here. He's always been a punishing hitter as well as stalwart in front of his net. When I attended the preseason picnic this year Chad instigated a rendition of "Happy Birthday" by the team's freshman for a younster which was the highlight of the event. Chad is always well-spoken on TV. His career at UAA has included ups and downs as anyone's would over 4 years. But consistency in the amount of effort that Chad has given over those 4 years should never be overlooked. He's always been good for a few goals from the blueline (14 in his career so far) so maybe he's got a couple more in him during the rest of his last season as a Seawolf. Chad has not only grown into an All WCHA "class" of player but the class with which he has represented the program should be a source of pride in his future life. Best of luck to Chad. And thank you very much.

Justin Bourne
Justin's career totals of 30g-51a aren't by any sense of the word record breaking (35th all time in goals) but he is the first player since Curtis Glencross to reach the 30 goal mark in a career. I've always thought Justin's wrist shot was one of his strengths. He's a good skater and goes into any situation necessary to help the team. Justin came to UAA from the BCHL where earned the Coaches Choice Award, Most Sportsmanlike Trophy and 3-Star Award with 02-03 BCHL Champion Vernon Vipers. The first series I saw Justin play in with UAA was memorable. He was skating with Curtis Glencross and Brett-Arcand Kootenay against UAF in Fairbanks. In the first game (which UAA probably shouldn't have won) they were the best line on the ice generating chances on almost every shift. It was a great debut for a career that never lacked his effort but unfortunately sometimes lacked team results. If determination on the ice were equal to $$$ then Justin would surely be a millionaire. No doubt it's a genetic trait as his dad's determination on the ice helped the Islander's in a big game or two (poetic understatement). Justin has shown leadership on the ice as well as that ever-determined effort and the Seawolves will miss both. Thank you Justin. Good luck to you in all your future life's challenges.

Charlie Kronschnabel
Cap'n Kronsch came to UAA as an unrecruited walk-on from River City Lancers in the USHL. He wasn't guaranteed a spot in the lineup. He wasn't promised anything other than a chance. In four years he's gone from a junior hockey player that everyone overlooked to the Captain of a Division 1 team in the well regarded WCHA. It's not an accomplishment that should be overlooked. In fact, I already called Charlie "The Best Walk-On Player Ever" and I stand by that proclaimation wholeheartedly. He's the team's best faceoff man. He's the first guy to take punishment in front of the other team's crease. He's "the" Captain in every sense of the word. Here's the best example and how I characterized his play back on Sunday Dec. 3rd when he broke his leg leading to a 13 game absence.
"Charlie broke the leg on an odd collision in the corner. He got up to get back into the play and took another big hit after a few seconds THEN got right back up and got his body into a lane to help block shots on the PK. The guy "gave it up big time" for his team. His leg was broken and he gets up not once but TWICE and contributes defensively until the puck mercifully went out of play? Wow. Real Wow. Ya know? That says so much about his passion as a leader on the ice. If Charlie needs some help toting things around campus then I can think of 24 guys that oughta be more than happy to volunteer their assistance.
It's a fitting legacy and just one of many examples of the leadership that Charlie has shown this team. In my mind he's certainly one the finest examples of a Captain that has been at UAA in the last ten years. A bit of UAA's soul won't be present on the ice next year. Thank you Charlie. And best of luck to you in everything your future brings.

Nick Lowe
Nick literally blazed into town in my mind. From the first time I saw him skate at a preseason practice his freshman year I was sure his speed would be an excellent source of offense for the Seawolves. But as fate and circumstances sometimes dictate the fruition of that vision never quite materialized. Nick came to UAA from the South Surrey Eagles of the BCHL and was the "Fan Favorite" there. There's no doubt that Nick can skate. There's no doubt that he can grind effectively. But ignoring Nick's snake-bitten goal scoring history at UAA wouldn't be fair but mentioning it doesn't deny his contributions. Does anyone track posts hit? Even without loads of success burying the puck Nick has been a very valuable player for UAA. He earned a WCHA ROTW award in February of his freshman season. His skating ability made him an effecitve and valuable penalty killer. His work ethic and strength made him a valuable 3rd and 4th line player for all four years of his career. His versatility was a positive when he played most of his games during his Junior year playing defense. Nick is the embodiment of a journeyman contributor in college sports that should be remembered for toiling in anonymity with grace and class. He's always been one my favorite players because of his effort. Thank you Nick. Best of luck in the future and remember that shooting the puck and hitting the post is greater than not ever having shot the puck at all.

Mark Smith
Mark came to UAA from the Sherwood Park Crusaders of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He was the MVP at the league All-Star game and the team's "Unsung Hero" and "Best Defenseman" awards. As a freshman at UAA Mark was the team's leading scoring defenseman with 5g-16a that year. In Mark's 2nd year he struggled with no points and had his season cut just about in half by injury. As a Junior though Mark's 15 points from the blueline lead the entire team in points. So far this season Mark has 5 goals and 5 assists. 5 goals from a blueliner in each of the three full season's he's played at UAA is a nice accomplishment. I'd characterize Mark's play over 4 years as consistent consistent consistent. He's virtually always in position; he takes opportunities to carry the puck intelligently and often turns them into scoring chances. He play in his own end has always been responsible and committed. Like Chad Anderson, when Mark was a freshman I characterized his potential to become an All-WCHA caliber defenseman and I think he has reached that level of play. I don't ever remember seeing Mark being interviewed by the press so I'd guess he is perhaps a bit of an unassuming kind of guy. His play has been that way too; quiet but strong or sometimes not noticed but always effective. I'm proud that he played for UAA. Thank you Mark. And of course best of luck with everything your future holds.

All of these guys will be missed for one reason or another. I'm happy that I had the opportunity to watch each and every one of their careers develop. It's been both my pleasure and my honor to do so.

9 comments:

Ed aka bostonbruins said...

I must say this is a great entry. This years senior class will always be one of my favorites all 5 of them had some of the best leadership skills ever seen at UAA. Keep up the good work Donald.

Anonymous said...

I will miss all these guys they are very nice and classy guys.

Anonymous said...

hopefully tha Aces pick a couple of them up, although i believe Kronch is AHL material at this moment

Anonymous said...

Excellent job.

Suze said...

I will dearly miss each of these players. They have added much needed leadership and cohesiveness to this years team.

BTW, I just heard on the news that Rob Haider (Kurt's son) was voted player of the year by the coaches. I remember talking to Kurt last summer about him, and I don't think he had been recruited by any colleges at that point.

Anonymous said...

I think all of them have the ability to get an ahl contract

Anonymous said...

Season end is so depressing.

Best of luck to all of the graduating seniors and congradulations.

Suze said...

Captian Kronch is back on the injured list, according to the ADN. :(

Suze said...

Charlie's mom said that as soon as Charlie can get his swollen foot into a skate he'll be back. Maybe next weekend for the Duluth series.

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