There is no doubt the most important class for the Seawolves this year is going to be the Sophomores. As they go; so goes UAA. If they shine then UAA is likely to shine. Never before have the disparate terms "super-soph" and "sophomore jinx" had more meaning for the Seawolves. Seven important skaters and the starting goaltender all in this one class. As freshman these guys contributed slightly more than one-third of the goals UAA scored last year. I think they underachieved on the whole even though they provided more than their fair share. There is no doubt that as a class they'll outperform the 06-07 class who only managed 13 goals last year.
Nils Backstrom came to the program just prior to the beginning of school last year. I'd have to say that Nils passing and skating are two of his best attributes. If he had one area to work on perhpas he could keep his head up more often but overall I'd give him good marks for vision. On more than one occasion he caught and dispossessed opposition forwards from behind. His skating has a that "Euro power" feel as he maximizes each and every stride. With the green light always on for Seawolf blueliners we should see more rushes from Nils this season. Though he never looked uncomfortable on D last year the experience he gained should give him more confidence this year. His brother tells me that Nils has been working hard this off-season and agrees that more shots from him would be a nice thing to see and would make folks on that side of "the pond" happy. I can't help but imagine Coach Shyiak will be looking for him to become more of a power play quarterback with both smart passing and timely shooting. Nils bagged one goal and added ten assists last year. Five goals and 20 assists shouldn't be more than he is capable of nabbing in 07-08. If he has a "super-soph" year he is capable of double digits in goals.
Kevin Clark is the first player at UAA in some time to be a true #9. He is fast, shifty, and gritty. He can blow past a defender, he can make some magic with the puck and he will put more than a couple of guys on their ass. I'm not going to say (yet) that he is the second coming of Dean Larson but he has that sort of potential and perhaps more. A perhaps less notable (but not unimportant) talent is his ability to get into the oppositions head. I greatly anticipated Kevin's first appearance on the ice last season. Unfortunately, it lasted all of about 8 seconds before he got tagged with a CFB and was booted. It was an inauspicious beginning (but also an indication of his passion to perform) and not the only penalty Kevin took last year (102 minutes led the team but his minors were 4th overall). As the season progressed though he learned some lessons about WCHA refereeing and managed to do what was most important for the team: stay out of the box and on the ice. His playmaking abilities are vital for his teammates and Kevin seems to have learned he can't bag any assists from the bleachers. If Kevin plays up to his potential as a sophomore he'll likely find himself honored with inclusion on an All-WCHA team. A "super-soph" year would yield around 20 goals and boatloads of assists.
Paul Crowder was more than just a pleasant surprise last season which is evidenced by the fact that I (stupidly) barely mentioned him in last years Freshman preview. With 11 goals and 13 assists he finished second on the team in scoring behind Justin Bourne. Paul has more than a few attributes that are strengths. His size (6ft 3in, 202lbs) makes him a physical presence in the offensive zone and he utilizes it well to control play deep in the zone. His reach and soft hands give him the ability to get to and hold pucks. He has good speed and quickness. He plays smart and utilizes his backhand as well as any college player. He sees his teammates well and can distribute the puck to them from anywhere on the ice. In his recent preseason profile on INCH Coach Shyiak noted that he'll be expecting Paul to use his skating to attack the defense through the neutral zone and take the puck to net more often. If Paul can make that happen he could lead the team in goals. Looking to pass first is always a nice attribute and I think that is Paul's natural style but he shouldn't underestimate his own finishing abilities.
Trevor Hunt was a bit of a platooning defenseman last season and missed 5 or 6 games with an ankle injury in the second half. But in his 15 games he showed a lot of promise and he did play in all three WCHA playoff games vs. Minnesota after returning from the injury. Trevor will certainly play many more games this season and doubtless make more contributions. I'm betting that pound for pound (5ft 10in, 193lbs) he is probably the strongest player on the team. He maintained good position and generally looked very comfortable on the ice. I remember a few rushes Trevor managed to make and they all were smart and effective. He was excellent along the boards and in front of his net. And he had one of the better +/- ratings on the squad. Trevor's excellent defensive work will be an important cog in the machine this year. Any production he adds to the bottom line will be a nice bonus.
Josh Lunden established himself as a force to be dealt with last season. He is the prototypical BCHL power forward and his 11 goals tied him with Crowder for the team lead in that category. He is never shy about banging bodies and has the size and strength (6ft 2in, 192lbs) to make that a very effective style. He breaks off the boards with the puck extremely well and often turns those situations into scoring chances. Josh's skating is not to be underestimated as he can definitely motor down the wing and beat opposition defenders to the puck. He has a nose for the net and some of his play might remind long time UAA fans of Rob Conn who made a living parked in the opposition crease. Josh 6 power play goals led the team and his 3 first goals tied for team lead. Josh will lekely see plenty of time on the power play this season. As a sophomore Josh should increase his production nicely. If he can live up to his potential and manage around 15 goals then he'll have done his job. A "super-soph" year for him would mean 20+ goals.
Jon Olthuis played in 14 games last season behind starter Nathan Lawson. Whether as a starter or coming in as relief I think he performed very well. Jon has a mixed style as he both stands up well squaing himself to shooters but can also be athletic when necessary. He has an excellent glove hand and handles the puck well enough. I saw no indication last season that Jon is prone to giving up big rebounds or that he has any bad habits. He is a big physical presence in the net at 6ft 3in. With a reasonably experienced defense in front of him the most important asset Jon will need to bring every night is consistency. He'll have to make the first save and the occasional second but the defense will need to do it's job this year and limit those extra chances. As with the rest of this sophomore class Jon will have to be successful for the team to have more success. I see no reason that Jonny O won't do well.
Ken Selby is a speed merchant in spades. He can straight up fly and was one of the fastest players in Canada among his age group. With a bit of a deeper roster last season, Ken saw action in only 12 games. When he played though, I made a specific effort to watch him. I liked what I saw. He has good hands and can handle the puck both at speed and in traffic. He didn't shy away from contact. In terms of production anything he can add will be beneficial. With regular play this season I expect Ken to be a breakaway threat. If I was the coach he'd definitely get chances as a penalty killer and in 4 on 4 situations where his speed could prove to be a huge asset. I'm always a big fan of speedsters so I'm definitely looking forward to seeing Ken play regularly this season.
Jared Tuton was on of my favorite players last season. Ya gotta love an underdog and Jared fits that definition. As a walk-on defenseman he was well down on the depth chart. But Coach Shyiak saw something that made him put Jared up on the wing and as a consequence Jared ended up playing in 36 games. Injuries in the lineup promoted Jared up from the 4th line a couple of times and he filled the role of a hard charging, hard checking physical winger very well. Many of the biggest hits in the opponents end last year were delivered by Jared. His punishing forechecking style brought the crowd to it's feet often. The summer before coming to UAA Jared was boating on a BC lake with friends when a plane crashed. Jared jumped into the water and helped the people from the plane to safety. He clearly has a lot of heart and character. Whether he breaks through this season and contributes goals or not I've got to believe he will be an valuable asset.
As I mentioned the performance of the sophomore class will be a very important factor for the Seawolves to have success in 07-08. As a team UAA netted 90 goals last season. If this years sophomore class can be "super-sophs" then they could pot more than half that total. Though still underclassmen these guys will have to provide some leadership. There is some pressure in that. Hopefully, my mention of the term "super-soph" here won't in itself be some sort of bad juju and bring on the "sophomore jinx". If that happens then I guess my loyal readers here will know who to blame. I hate being superstitious and mostly I'm superstitious about mentioning my superstitions. That's pretty messed up eh?