Eight 3rd year players and one transfer comprise this years junior class in Seawolf jerseys. The junior season is one where the player is expected to be more mature. This large group will need to exert that leadership on and off the ice this season. It's time for mature, smart hockey and all 9 of these guys have paid their dues. They should be ready to contribute in accordance with the various skills they bring. All of those skills will be needed for success.
Nils had a disappointing sophomore season. He was injured and struggled to regain his regular place in the lineup. A new more mature Nils Backstrom should be a more responsible player this season. A couple of things here and there got away from Nils last season in the defensive end. He'll have to correct those deficiencies to ensure himself regular time this season. With 9 total defensemen that is the reality. Nils brings strengths aplenty though. He skates smoothly and has good top speed. He sees the ice well and makes good tape to tape passes. He is big and strong enough to challenge anyone physically in the defensive end and I've seen evidence of a rough side. Nils is valuable on the power play manning the blueline. He sees both the pass and the shot with the puck on his stick. I think he needs to choose shot more often. If he does then the Seawolves bottom line will improve.
Brian was expected to play last season beginning in the second half. My understanding is that someone didn't put something in the mail soon enough to make that happen. As a result Brian was notified in December that he'd have to continue to sit. I can't think of a player that is probably more ready to hit the ice in a game than Brian must be. His experience at Bowling Green wasn't a good one. Frankly, Brian didn't make the best of it. He allowed distractions to rule the day. It cost him on the ice. I'm assured that Brian has put all of that behind him. I've heard the words anxious to play and something to prove with regard to Brian. He was the top forward on Sioux City's roster in his last year and a leader. As a junior playing in his first year as a Seawolf I don't expect Brian to lead the team in scoring. But I'm guessing he shouldn't be too far behind at the end of the season. Brian will need to become a lynchpin in the UAA offense. I look to him to make whoever he plays with better. He could easily be a mature forward assigned to a couple of rookies on the third line (which would make the 3rd line a threat) or he can be a dependable contributor on the 1st/2nd lines. I'm really looking forward to seeing exactly what he can accomplish with a focused effort.
Kevin isn't the only player on the Seawolf team that can make a great pass or a pretty play. But he sure is likely to do it more often than anyone else. Kevin plays with passion every shift. He always has a physical component to his game. He is an excellent stickhandler and a sneaky passer. And this year Kevin will add maturity to that resume'. His 17 points as a freshman and 23 points as a sophomore are pittances compared to the potential scoring that a mature Kevin Clark can bring to UAA this season. I believe Kevin's name can be amongst the leaders in the WCHA. I think he can double his sophomore output. Lots of things have to happen for that to happen but he does have the skills to get it done. We UAA fans are always going to compare a player like Kevin to the magic-man Dean Larson. Ok then ... Lars had 43 points as a junior. Theres a good mark for you to shoot at Kevin. His committment, passion and scoring should be second to none on this years team. It's time for him to pick up this team and carry it on his back if need be. I believe the saying "as Kevin goes so go the Seawolves" wouldn't be that much of an exaggeration for this year. Kevin's play will be very important this year. Very.
Paul Crowder suffered from the same syndrome last year as so many other UAA forwards. Whatever it was that kept the Seawolves off the scoreboard kept sophomore Paul off the scoreboard as often as he'd managed during his freshman season. For 08-09 Paul will need to double last years goals contribution. It's clear that with two seasons under his belt that he should be ready to do exactly that. Paul has good anticipation. He knows where to be on the ice. Those smarts should allow him to be in position more often to generate chances. Paul is a good team player but perhaps is one kid that I'd tell to be greedier. I'd hope he shoots more often when the chance presents itself; even if there is a sweet pass to be made. Advice to put the puck on the net of course applies to the whole team this season. But in Paul's case I think it has more potential to be fruitful. Paul should view himself as a goal scorer. He is one. I'm always thrilled when he gets a chance on his backhand and buries it. Paul provided leadership on the ice as a sophomore. We're likely to see more of that this season. He'll make younger players better when he skates with them. And he'll be a legitimate goal scoring threat no matter who skates with him.
Playing in about half the games as a freshman and three-quarters as a sophomore Trevor could be poised for much more ice time this season. Trevor is strong and steady on the back end. He doesn't rush the puck much. He is a stay at home defensive guy. I bet he actually "likes" goalies. Pound for pound I'd bet Trevor is as strong as anyone in the WCHA. He plays smart positionally. He took a bad penalty or two over the last couple of years but more often than not he could be depended on to help keep the puck out of the net. He sported the best +/- on the team with +4 last season. Trevor should certainly be motivated to prove himself in order to earn a regular spot in the lineup. As one of the few "stay-at-home" guys on the blueline I can't see much keeping him off the ice. That sort of defensive presence is a valuable commodity. If you're interested in what interests Trevor off the ice then click on this youtube link for his Bill Dance impersonation. Nice hat Trevor.
From a nice 20 points as a freshman Josh Lunden improved the stat books slightly as a sophmore with 27 points. In a year where scoring was down overall on the team a modest increase was nice to see somewhere in the lineup. Josh can be "the" go to guy this season. He's got two years on him which have shown him exactly where he needs to be to put the puck on the twine. That place is in close and I think Josh likes it there too. He works as hard around the net as any forward in the league. He takes his lumps and dishes out a few as well. Josh has enough wheels to fly up the wing with the puck. He has the strength to dominate on the boards behind the net and in the corners. And he'll take any abuse in order to get the puck behind the opposition goalie. I guess Curtis Glencross was the last kid UAA had score 20 goals. If I had to pick the next Seawolf to hit that mark it would be Josh Lunden. How about this year? I hope so. As with every other junior on this squad Josh will need to be cognizant of the example he sets for younger players. Maturity from all these guys will translate to confidence for younger players.
I might not say it if I didn't think that Jon Olthuis already knew, but .886 just ain't gonna get it done this year. The reduction in the GAA from his freshman to sophomore year was nice to see but I have to give equal credit for that to the better defensive game the Seawolves played. So why didn't the save percentage improve? One reason in my mind; it might seem simple but I don't think Jonny O was ready to go from the git go in some games. How many early goals did UAA give up last season. Within the first minute or two? 5. And 3 others within the first 4 minutes. 8 goals that shouldn't have been. Whether Jonny O has to bear that load all on his shoulders is debatable. The team should be ready to go from the drop of the puck as well as the goalie. I know there are other pucks that Jon would like to have back as well throughout the season. The simple fact of the matter is this. This is a year where Jon will have to prove that he deserves to be between the pipes. Bryce Christianson is going to challenge for playing time. I have to believe that will make Jon a better netminder. .900 is the minimum save percentage that a goaltender of a successful WCHA team will have.
Ken Selby is underutilized im my opinion. Part of the reason is probably due to the next player in this post to be described. Ken is the fastest player on the team. At least he was when he got here. Hell, he was probably the fastest player in Canada in his age group when he won the speed competition at the CJAHL prospects game. Unfortunately, Ken has never found a regular place or role in the lineup. Ken's highlight moment was a beauty of a goal he scored last season versus Minnesota. He picked up a deflected puck near center ice, skated to the middle of the slot with the puck and buried a high shot past Kangas. It was a goal scorers goal. He made it look easy when it was anything but easy. I could go on all day about Ken's skating. He flies. But everytime I've watched him play I liked what he did with the puck on his stick. I hope this season is a breakout for him and that Coach Shyiak can find a role suited for his skill set. Another speedy hitter for the energy line?
Jared is a coaches player. In his previous two years Jared has skated on the #1 line to give it a more physical presence and he was successful. He skated mostly on the 4th "energy" line and was one of only 4 forwards with a positve plus/minus rating. Jared has played at defense when needed. He shifts from one line to another or position to position and never seems to miss a beat. The other thing that he never seems to miss is an opposition player in their own zone. Jared's physical game has been tremendous over the past two years. He has snagged, tagged and bagged more WCHA players than any other Seawolf. Jared uses his speed to develop the power for his hitting game. He simply gets there earlier than the opposition thinks and that translates to disruption. It's such a valuable role and Jared has filled it so well that I fully expect him to reprise it this season.