Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The 07-08 Rookie Class

Winston DayChief, Matthew Gordon, Tommy Grant, Nick Haddad, Kane Lafranchise, Aaron Mayo, Brad McCabe, Craig Parkinson, Luka Vidmar and Sean Wiles comprise the 07-08 Freshman Seawolf class. Ten guys. Two goalies and eight skaters. It is a big class. It is an important group. I've said it before and I'll say it again; you can't count on freshman to perform at any particularly high level in the WCHA. It takes time to adapt to the game no matter what league you come from. But this year Seawolf fans are definitely going to be looking to (even if not "expecting" <---- a word I should avoid using) some of these rookies to contribute. What can we realistically hope for? It occurs to me that at least we've got some colorful new names added to the roster. So without further rambling ...

Winston DayChief comes to UAA from the Cowichan Capitals in the BCHL. He was voted as the fan favorite there. That single tidbit tells me a boatload about what to expect from Winston this year. Fanbases vote for a favorite on one overwhelming issue; how hard a guy works. I read some comments on a BCHL fan forum which confirms this. Winston is a physical player that is happy in the corners banging bodies and challenging for the puck. At 6ft 1in and 195 pounds he's got enough size to be effective physically. He's a big mature Albertan from the heartland of Canada (think cornfed Nebraska football player). Besides Winston's obvious toughness though it's fairly clear he's got a good set of skills. His 74pts (31g, 43a) in 59 games last season put him at #20 on the BCHL statistics leaderboard. I received an email from a Cowichan fan last year singing Winston's praises (can't find it now though) so I've been looking forward to seeing him wearing a Seawolf sweater.

Mathew Gordon was the #2 goalie on the 05-06 Burnaby Express RBC Championship team behind Bryce Luker and was a teammate of current Seawolf Paul Crowder. On the 06-07 Burnaby squad Matthew played in 51 games leading the league in minutes played with 2946. He had a nice save percentage of .905 while facing the 5th most shots in the league. At 6ft 2in and 190 pounds he covers a good portion of the net. He's from Vancouver and is a good student. Apparently he is also a certified referee (maybe he'll sneak in a suggestion or two to a WCHA referee or two). Matthew can probably expect the same sort of playing time as Jon Olthuis got last season. If he perfoms well he'll likely earn additional chances to play. The best case scenario for UAA is if Matthew can become capable of challenging Olthuis for playing time and perhaps end up in some sort of regular rotation with him in the future. This season though is likely to be one primarily of development and learning.

Tommy Grant led the BCHL's Westside Warriors in all scoring categories last season. His 75 points (36g-39a) put him 2 spots above Winston DayChief on the BCHL points leaderboard but his 36 markers was enough to land him at 13th goalwise. Tommy turned 21 just last week and at 6ft 2in 190 pounds he is another big mature kid that should be physically ready to compete in the always tough WCHA. Last season he had a helluva nice scoring streak in January where he put up 27pts (15g, 12a) in a 14 game stretch. He obviously had the Tommy "Gun" working full-time during those games. If he can fire it accurately this season he could become a valuable asset in his first year.

Nick Haddad makes the big move this year coming from his hometown of Welfarebanks to Los Anchorage to begin his college playing career. Nick played for the hometown NAHL Fairbanks Ice Dogs for the last three years. He is 20 years old and is 6ft 2in 191 pounds. Another big mature forward, he scored 57pts (25g, 32a) in 50 games last season which tied him at the #20 spot on the league leaderboard (15th in goals). If Nick doesn't become all google-eyed at being in the "big city" then he should be physically ready to contribute in his first season.

Kane Lafranchise comes to UAA from the AJHL's Spruce Grove Saints. Kane was the first player to commit to this Seawolf class and so it's been a long time waiting for him to . Besides having one of the coolest names ever for an athlete Kane is reputed to be a excellent skating defenseman. He finished the 06-07 season 8th on the scoring table amongst defensemen with 35pts (12g, 23a) in 58 games. Kane was a league All-Star in both of his seasons at Spruce Grove. Ultimately, Seawolf fans can hope that Kane is one of the blueliners that grows into a power play quarterback. The UAA website uses a capital "F" in his name but since Spruce Grove and the AJHL both use the lowercase I'm going with precedent until someone authoritatively straightens me out.

Aaron Mayo comes to UAA straight from perennial state champion South Anchorage High School. He played just five games last season recording a .920 save percentage in his backup role to Nathan Corey who played well enough in his career at South to have his jersey retired. Anchorage produces more than it's share of excellent goalies as another South product Adam Murray moved onto the USNDT last season. What does all this mean? It means that Aaron is probably a decent goalie but in order to see any playing time he will really have to impress in practice. With Jonny O and Matthew Gordon ahead of him on the depth charts Aaron's likely role will be to fill in during injury and to be one of those very valuable guys that fills the net in practice in order to make his teammates better.

Brad McCabe finished last season with the Texas Tornado of the NAHL. He spent the first part of the season with the Alaska Avalanche in Wasilla where he played well enough to get the offer to play for UAA. In a combined 42 games Brad scored 36pts (21g, 15a). Brad missed a chunk of playing time in the middle of the season with a knee surgery. Prior to the 2007 NHL draft he was listed at #208 on the CSB midseason rankings as a "Player to watch". When I contacted Keith Morris about Brad he had this to say,
Brad McCabe is a tremendous young man. Played very hard for us when he was in Wasilla. Very strong on the puck and excellent balance. Has a big time shot and can get to the battle areas to score goals. Coming from junior b the year before there is going to be a learning curve to his play away from the puck ( Defensive zone coverage) at the WCHA level. He was liked by his teamates and comes from a good military family ( Navy officer dad) He is a player who should get better as his career grows.
Brad is one of the players I've been eagerly anticipating seeing in a Seawolf sweater. He is 6ft and 200 pounds and is originally from Oregon. My thanks to Keith for the comments as he was one of only two responders to emails that I sent to all of these recruit's former coaches.

Craig Parkinson was a late addition to this class and joins Winston DayChief at UAA from Cowichan Valley. In 55 games this past season he had 79pts (42g, 37a) to put him 14th on the BCHL leaderboard in points but 6th in the league in goals. Craig is 21 and at 6ft 190 pounds I'd classify him as another one of the big mature forwards that dominate this freshman class. In 05-06 he had 63 points in 60 games for the Capitals.

Luka Vidmar was another summer addition to the Seawolf freshman class and comes from the USHL's Chicago Steel. Luka is originally from Ljubljana, Slovenia but spent the past two years playing for Chicago. At 6ft 1in and 192 pounds, he converted to defense after his first year in juniors. Assistant coach (former Gopher) Jon Waibel responded to my query with these comments:
Luka has a lot of upside as a player. He came a long way last year maturing into a defenseman. Luka has high expectations that hopefully at UAA he will reach his goals. He is a smart kid that I think will contribute to the college game even more than juniors. Playing on an olympic sheet will benefit him even more because of his skating ability.
Luka tied for 3rd on the Steel in points as the #1 blueliner with 6 goals and 22 assists in 57 games. He turned 21 back in May adding to the maturity of this years incoming class.

Sean Wiles was the last addition to this years class and is another big mature forward. This 20 year old is 6ft 3in and 203 pounds. As I noted back in early July, Sean was among the 15 finalist for Wisconsin's 2005 Mr. Hockey award. The NHL's CSB had him on thier 06 "players to watch" list as a "B" player. His old high school coach described him as having "lots of talent". Chris from the Western College Hockey Blog said that Sean stood out during his Tri-Cities camp last season. With 19pts (12g, 7a) in 55 games Sean will have to impress if he wants to see the kind of ice time he talked about to his local paper when it was announced he'd signed with UAA. Hopefully, he can use his size to it's best advantage and become the kid from this years class that I underestimated. Last year's kid I underestimated? Paul Crowder.

Summary: With 10 guys coming in I'd be foolish if I didn't think at least one or two of these guys won't be quality contributors this season. My sense of these things (wherever that comes from) tells me that Brad McCabe, Craig Parkinson, Kane Lafranchise and Luka Vidmar have the best chances to become this years version of Clark, Crowder or Lunden. I'm excited about Winston DayChief, Nick Haddad, Tommy Grant and Sean Wiles as well but in terms of past numbers etcetera there just isn't enough evidence for me to get all fired up. I hope all four prove me wrong. I hope none of the four I listed as best chances turn out to be less than I'm expecting. And so there it is, the word I'd hoped to avoid using; expectations. I'm responsible for mine and of course it's important to remember that I haven't seen any of these kids skate much less play a game.


Suze said...

Your comment about Wiles optimism for this year made me curious. The article stated that his scholarshop is close to a full ride, and could be a full ride if he proves himself.

The coaches must really be impressed since those kinds of scholarships are pretty rare these days.

Donald said...

It wasn't anything specific just the overall confidence he seemed to be expressing (which is a good thing). Maybe I should have more carefully worded what I meant.

As to the scholarship comment I'd take that with a grain of salt. It's always been my impression that they pretty much split schollies at UAA evenly amongst the players. That certainly could have changed in the last few years and I never got wind of it.

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