Friday, September 12, 2008

08-09 The Bigger Picture

Previewing some of the strengths of each individual class is just the first step in generating a picture of what I think the team will look like this year. I'm most happy about the burgeoning maturity on this team. 12 upperclassmen equals a solid amount of experience. Don't underestimate the power of maturity. Teams with larger productive upperclassmen succeed in the WCHA more often than not. Add in 8 veteran sophomores with 224 games under their belts to the experience/maturity column. The surest path to knowledge is down the road of failure. We all learn the best lessons from our mistakes. It matures us. I see this years team as one that is dramatically less prone to mistakes. As the season progresses that factor should be more and more strongly in UAA's favor. What I think that translates to is bye bye to the ugly second half of the season that plagued the Seawolves the last two years.

In 2006-2007 the Seawolves opened the season with a 10-8-3 record through December. After December they went 3-16-1. In 2007-2008 the Seawolves opened the season with a 6-7-5 record through December. After December they went 1-14-3. It's been easy to point to the second half both of the last two years as the barrier to success. What to do about it has got to be the biggest question in the coaches mind. I don't think they have to do much. I think maturity will rule the day. I think upperclassmen will tell underclassmen how damned hard they have to work day in and day out for the whole season. I think they'll foster unity and a team attitude that shows they know you can't take a night off in the WCHA. I think they'll help younger guys fully understand that 100% effort is the minimum. Of course that all starts with the coaching staff emphasizing this most important factor. The better teams in the WCHA get better during the second half. This years Seawolf team will have to do some of the same.

There are five very key players on the Seawolves roster with whom this maturity must fully be in evidence all season long. Mat Robinson, Shane Lovdahl, Kevin Clark, Paul Crowder, and Josh Lunden. Expect these five guys to be top scorers on both offense and defense. That is almost a given. These guys on-ice committment and leadership is going to serve as the primary example for everybody else. I hope that Brian Bales can grow into being the same sort of example as the season progresses. I don't mean to sell short the contribution that I believe will come from the other upperclassmen on the squad. They might not pop in as many goals as those six guys but Backstrom, Hunt, Selby and Tuton are all going to fill very important roles. Their experience and maturity will make the PK improve from last season for example.

With a large sophomore class all the upperclassmen will have plenty of opportunities to support their second year teammates. Without leadership this important class won't fully succeed. I see three guys in the sophomore class as key players. Kane Lafranchise, Brad McCabe and Craig Parkinson need to continue their progression and up their production this year. I see Daychief, Grant and Vidmar as important players of course and perhaps they can each double their point totals. I see Jeff Carlson essentially as a freshman though he is physically mature at 22. He should develop as the season progresses and perhaps turn into a threat at some point. We'll have to see. I see Wiles and Haddad as two guys who will need to carve a role out for themselves.

There are three not so pretty numbers from last season that must be addressed. The penalty kill wasn't horrible but it wasn't top notch either. There isn't a reason it should be anything less than top notch this season. Campbell Blair knows how to get that done as he proved at Maine. With a large group of veteran players I know he can find 8 guys with the skill sets necessary to fulfill his plan to make the PK as good as anyone's in the league. I'm serious. Both of the last two years we've had freshman on the PK as often as not. This season that isn't the case. Many of the guys Campbell needs to get this done are experienced with his penalty killing philosophy already. Like I said, 82.2% last year wasn't ugly. Wouldn't between 88 and 90 percent be pretty?

Speaking of pretty ... that's something last years power play wasn't. 13.4% is getting down to a low enough number where you'd have to classify it as inept. There are bulls to be taken by the horn on the power play. Quite frankly and ironically it's the favorite refrain of the ignorant hockey fan. We've all sat behind the boob who yells, "shoot ... shooooot" the whole game. If those boobs were yelling that last year when we had the power play they would have been right. The Seawolves have absolutely got to find a way to get more rubber to the net when they've got an extra man. It's a stat that needs to open in the 20 percent range and stay there all year. At minimum.

The final not so pretty number from last season is the GF/GA ratio. We scored 81 while "they" scored 112. I've seen uglier numbers. In 05-06 the team finished the season with just six wins and scored 68 while giving up 138. I think that helps cement my assertion that last years team wasn't as bad as their record. Which of course means that this season the team will be better than most people expect. Overall last year the Seawolves outshot their opponents. And while that's heartening it wasn't by much 959-927 (just for comparison UAA was outshot in 05-06 1344-827). A big part of the Seawolves offensive game plan could be classified one where players are using their size and strength in the offensive zone. That sort of effort is made so you can be in position to snatch up a rebound. For there to be a rebound someone has to shoot the puck intelligently. Maturity is a factor here as well. Smart shots come from experienced players right? The Seawolves will score more than 81 goals this coming season. I have little doubt of that. How many more is the biggest question. I'm assuming of course that we'll see a marginal drop in the number of goals the Seawolves give up. Under 100 certainly sounds quite do-able.

I think the Seawolves are due for an honest to god winning season. That's right. I think the overall record at the end of the season will be above .500. For a couple of years now I've thought that next season would be one that all us fans could call a "breakout season". I still believe that's the case. This year is a building block to next year. It's not a rebuilding year but a building year for the Seawolves. There is every reason to believe that this years team can get to the WCHA Final Five. An outside shot at getting into the NCAA's is even a possibility with that sort of record in the WCHA. In 09-10 this team will have a massive upperclass with a real nice talent base. Watch out for a helluva season then and a chance at making noise in the NCAA's. But that's not likely this year.


upperdeck said...

Great breakdown on the classes! Appreciate this article showing where the Seawolves need to step up over the last few seasons. I like all your blogs that leave out the gutter language and provide great data or show off your writing skills. I will be buying season tickets this year - I'm Pumped!

Donald Dunlop said...

Thanks for the feedback. It's appreciated. I suppose it's a reminder to me to explain my position with regard to language. As succinctly as I can say it; I consider all words equal.

Naturally, I'm free to choose those specific words and I do understand when I do that it might turn some people off. I accept that for what it is. I can't apologize per se but I do understand the stance. I can only hope everyone else's standards allow me to continue that free choice of words. It might be more difficult than you think for me to express myself otherwise. In any case, I appreciate that readers set aside their displeasure with certain adjectives and read here anyway.

Here's the true story of my first "bad" written word.

It was first grade. No kidding.

I could read and write a fair amount by the time I got to first grade. I'd also been out and about enough in the local neighborhood to have seen spray painted expletives on this or that cement wall. I had no idea what these F and C words meant. But one day in class I wrote the F word out nice and boldly in double spaced style in my Big Chief Tablet. I suppose it was just to gander at the word. Just to "see it"?

Some days later when my very pretty teacher Miss Furr instructed everyone to open our Big Chief Tablets to a clean page, I complied. But as I flipped through the pages the beautiful Miss Furr happened to be walking past my desk. With superbly bad timing I flipped past the big bold F U C K and guess who's eye caught it.

I give Miss Furr credit for not "going off". She quietly had me stand up and take my Big Chief Tablet out into the hall. She grabbed her paddle and joined me. She asked me why I wrote that down and if I knew what it meant. I said I didn't know why and I didn't know what it meant. She explained that it was a word that bad big boys used sometimes and I should never use it. Then I bent over and took my three licks.

This experience guaranteed that for the rest of my life I would never allow narrow interpretations of "good" or "bad" to determine my use of language.

And oh yeah ... I'm pumped for the season too!

Suze said...

Nice job Donald! And the first game is only 11 days away! Can't wait.

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