The Seawolves have played a bit more than half the season so far with eighteen games down and sixteen to go. In my last post I mentioned a couple of things I'd write about using "in the next few days" as some estimate as to when you expect them. Then I took a week off. Hope you didn't mind too much, I know I didn't. So let's get to some thoughts on each player eh?
In order of statistical accomplishments:
As a senior leader on a significantly young team, we all expected and hoped that Tommy would step up his scoring from last years totals of 9g-17a. At the halfway point that is pretty much what he has done. All in all there is little if any significant criticism I can offer regarding his play. His 8 goals this season are just one short of last year's total; but perhaps more importantly, many of those eight goals have come at really important times. Tommy seems really determined and focused.
I can recall few if any shifts were he wasn't able to help establish something going forward. He's been an effective and important penalty killer. On the power play he is called upon to carry the puck and establish a good entry. When he has been able to motor he's accomplished that job but there have been more than a few poor entrances for the Seawolves. Tommy's puck leadership there is crucial, if he can bring it in clearly and establish a presence in the zone the team should be able to raise it's percentages. Maintaining possession on the entry is important but sometimes a dump must be made, when Tommy makes that dump it's got to be a smart one.
I haven't heard so many positive comments and excitement about a freshman from average fans since Kevin Clark hit the ice as I've heard this season regarding Jordan's play. He's been nothing less than a real breath of fresh air.
It didn't take long for him to establish himself. either He assisted on the first goal of the season in the 1st period of his 1st game, picked up another assist in the 2nd game then notched a power play goal in the 3rd game and picked up an assist. He has not been on the scoresheet in only four games since that time. None of that though is what has other fans commenting.
Sure it's awesome that he's the 2nd leading scorer on the team, but frankly ... folks love the stickhandling and dynamic play. In the frenetic WCHA it takes a sweet pair of hands and quick feet to be able to control the puck deep in an opponents end. Jordan has both of those and regardless of whether it's a scoring play we fans get to see that in action. And we love it. Jordan hasn't made anyone forget about Kevin Clark but I've got to believe he has a solid chance over time to assume that sort of ongoing important contributing role.
If Jordan Kwas is a bit of an unexpected breath of fresh air, Matt is doing nothing less than living up to my highest expectations for him. 7 goals from a freshman in the first 18 games isn't something we UAA fans see very often. The WCHA can be a damn tough league for freshman and many take half a season or more to find their feet. That both has and hasn't been the case for Matt.
He hasn't registered a point of any sort in 9 of the 18 games. In the other 9 games he has 11. I don't want to label that as inconsistency on his part but it is inconsistent. Matt has been the beneficiary of never giving up a few times this season. In the OT win versus CC, he scored a goal with 1seconds left in the 2nd period to tie the game and then with 6 seconds left in the 3rd period he tied the game again to send it to overtime. Good lessons for him and good examples for the rest of the team.
With the mix of classes on this team tending to youth Coach Shyiak quite properly mentioned before the season that for UAA to have success some younger players would have to contribute. Bailey is the poster child for that thought. He is contributing really nicely and there's every reason to expect that to continue.
Will it be Cap'n Parky when the mid-season break is over? In case you haven't noticed, the Seawolves have been playing with 4 players who have an A stitched on the jersey and without a C. Without taking anything away from the other 3, it's this blogger's opinion (and some commenters as well) that Craig would be an excellent Captain.
He has been nothing less than M O N S T E R on the draw so far this season. And he has taken nearly every single really important face-off. Success on the draw is one positive aspect of the game that has often eluded the Seawolves. With Craig's mastery that is no longer the case. He is facing off against the opponent's top draw men and coming out on top.
His penalty killing play is nothing short of excellent and he is without a doubt the most responsible defensive forward on the team. He commits himself to shot blocking without regard to the number of bruises he's going to walk away with. His scoring pace this season is also ahead of any of his other three years and he's only two goals away from matching last year's goal production. I'll be surprised if he isn't named captain but if not, he'll do no less than show his value over the course of last half season in a Seawolves jersey.
Someone commented here that Mitch is probably the most improved player for UAA this season. I can find no reason to argue that. At the halfway point he's exceeded his production from last season's 33 games. Mitch is a big guy at 6'4" but has found a way to improve both his anticipation and first steps in my view.
Last season at times I guessed he was a bit lost on the ice. This year that isn't the case as he has been johnny-on-the-spot. I'd imagine the highlight for Mitch this season would be the OT winner he scored against SCSU but for me it's the game tying goal he scored in UAA's last game against DU. The OT winner came on a scramble where he was the trailer coming in onto a goal mouth scramble and he somehow got his stick on a bouncing puck, but the goal against DU was a flat out beauty.
I love a well taken backhand shot ... I always say it's the most under-utilized skill in D1 hockey. Mitch's backhander was the epitome of that kind of goal, he stepped around a defender into the slot and fucking ripped it high corner over the goalie's shoulder. I thought Evgeni Malkin had somehow slipped into the #12 Seawolves sweater.
I think Mitch is taking nice steps forward in his development this season. That was maybe hard to detect last year with the focus of the offensive effort being the physical game. If he can match his 1st half production in the 2nd half of the season I'll be thrilled and it'll help the team succeed.
Sean started the season with a bang. 3 goals in the 1st 2 games was beautiful. But in the ensuing 16 games he's only managed to find the twine once. Some big expectations were put on Sean's shoulders before the season started. As a senior who'd bagged 9 goals the year before that was an appropriate expectation.
I have never seen a college player take bigger strides in his 4 year career than Sean. Never. There certainly could be some spread out through the D1 landscape but the first time I saw Sean I didn't think he even belonged in D1 and that was primarily because of his skating. I couldn't have been more happy to be proven so badly wrong over the next three years.
Sean is now probably one of the better skating 6'4" forwards in this league. That's a testament to his hard work, dedication and desire. So why hasn't Sean been able to get the puck into the net more than once in the last 16 games? My experience and intuition tell me it may primarily be confidence and pressure. Sean has learned to utilize his size and good skating to create chances but he really looks like he's trying too hard at times (I desperately wanted to say "gripping the stick" too tightly but it so overused). At other times, I sense he is frustrated.
Hopefully the holiday break is refreshing for him and he comes back relaxed and finds his confidence again. As with every senior in the 2nd half of the season I think the key to his success will be to just try to have as much fun playing as he can. The more minutes he enjoys himself the higher his production will be.
Nick is more than deserving of serious consideration for the C when the 2nd half starts. He is and has been the very definition of a great penalty killing forward. Can you count the number of times he's single handedly killed off large chunks of a penalty in the opposition zone? I can't. He's staggeringly effective at that role.
I don't think there's anyone on the team who is as hard-charging as Nick. Combine that intensity with his very disciplined play and in my book you've got nothing short of a gem. I don't say that lightly either. I'd hate to think what this squad would be missing without Nick on it. Adjectives like dependable and committed come up short ... he's more than both. Nick has always been an asset in the Seawolves end but this season so far he's already contributed 70% of his highest production in his UAA career. He's established himself solidly on the 2nd line in an offensive role and has been creating lots of good offense off the cycle game.
At 6'2" he is deceptively quick and uses changes of direction along with that size to make space and time for his linemates. He will have his best offensive season this year and his number of goals will only be limited by his unselfish play. Matt Bailey has already and will likely continue to be the beneficiary of much of that.
I've always appreciated Luka's style of play over his career. He has a mostly very calm demeanor on the ice. He plays a very controlled game. I suppose it could be characterized also as smart play. I've commented here that from time to time Luka makes an error that looks like it's from lack of focus or perhaps intensity. No player is immune from such things but it may have been judgemental for me to label his mistakes that way. Nevertheless, because he's a blueliner those little errors can be hugely emphasized.
He does so many other things well that it's perhaps also a bit unfair to highlight the errors here. In the offensive zone he sees the seams as well as anyone and has a knack for getting pucks through traffic. He's been physically solid in his own end and comes away from puck battles along the boards with the biscuit more often than not. Luka's smart play shouldn't be taken to meant that he lacks anything physically. In fact, I see him as having really quality physical attributes this season. I'm wondering if his off-season with the Slovenian National Team matured him somewhat.
In any case, Luka can and should be an important part of the power play in the 2nd half. Even with Kane Lafranchises return I'd expect to see him get some more of those important minutes. 5 on 5 Luka can also be a threat offensively; I think he just needs to take advantage of more opportunities to carry the puck forward and/or deep. When he does make that choice it usually ends up in creating a chance.
I think we're seeing just the beginning of what Scott will bring to the Seawolves over the remaining years of his career. After sitting out his transfer year Scott hit the ice here looking like a veteran. You can't convince me he isn't a senior even though he's a sophomore on the books. He plays like a veteran. Moreso, he plays like a smart veteran with skills.
Scott's highlight so far this season is the game saving block he made on the wide open chance against St. Cloud that led to the rush where Bruijsten scored the game winner. His block was no less important than the goal.
I like what Scott brings in terms of offensive potential. He's got a good eye for the net and I find myself often wanting to use a Chay Genoway comparison. He's certainly not achieved at a Genoway level so I've kept myself from saying that until now. But his size and style of play keeps it in my head.
A number of things have pleasantly surprised me regarding Brett's play so far this year. In particular I'd start by noting his physical play. He's pretty tenacious along the boards and I don't think I expected that. I suppose I should have been expecting that since he doesn't lack any size.
I thought he might score more than he has but I'll attribute that now to him playing a fair amount of time in a checking forward role. I really like his release when he shoots and would put it in the same category as Tommy Grant's though I think he may have a better ability to release a shot when the puck is in an awkward spot.
Like Matt Bailey I think there was some preseason expectation (or hope) that Brett would find his feet in the league relatively quickly. He showed us some of that earlier in the season but hasn't lit the lamp in the last 8 games. I doubt very much that he is done scoring this year though.
Curtis is so versatile. In now his third season we've seen him play at pretty much every position other than goaltender. He's been on both wings, played at center and of course on defense. I anticipate (am guessing here) that with Kane's return and an otherwise healthy blueline corps that we'll see a lot more of Curtis on the forward line in the 2nd half. Give him a minimal chance to adjust to that and find some chemistry with a linemate or two and I'm betting he can get to double digits in goals. He has a nose for the net and the dynamic skills to make things happen.
There is no more a tenacious 5'8" player in the league than Curtis. When he get's going there is simply no off-switch. I try not to have favorite players when I write about they guys. But I've always loved a D-man that can bring the puck and has speed and skill. And with Curtis experience in both junior and D1 playing defense and forward I'm smitten. I cannot help but think about what he might produce playing the next 16 games at forward and hope that is exactly what happens.
While I mentioned Mitch Bruijsten as being the most improved player so far; it isn't a slam dunk for me. The balance tips in Mitch's favor for his production. But nobody on the team has taken bigger steps forward in his displayed abilities than Daniel. His skating has improved nicely. He's not a breakaway threat by any means but he's made big strides in his stopping and starting.
Last year Daniel would circle rather than stop and start. This year that has pretty much ended. He still doesn't turn his skates over as quickly as you'd like to see but nevertheless, he deserved lots of credit for getting his feet moving rather than gliding. I think his hockey sense is improved as well especially in terms of positioning himself. Daniel is still a work in progress. He does have one of the softer sets of hands on the team and he can really glue the puck to his stick. His head is up more this season. He is the very definition of a steadily developing hockey player.
Mark has the potential to really become a fan favorite I think. The crowd always loves a gritty little quick guy. And that is exactly what Mark has shown himself to be. Mark is generously listed at 5'8" but I just don't buy that. Coming from the NAHL, I think Mark is classically a WCHA freshman that is still finding his feet at the midway point (he's appeared in 13 of 18 games). I think he mostly has a grip on the speed of the game but (and maybe this is a stretch) he likes to play along the boards a bit much. He is successful there but undersized.
He is very effective in the neutral zone and has the ability to steal lots of pucks by picking pockets and straight on poke checks. He's been playing quite a bit on Daniel Naslund's wing and I understand that combination but I'm guessing at some point (maybe not this year) we'll start to see Mark play at center. Not that my speculation about such things means much. As the season goes on I think we'll see him become more effective and productive. Regardless of that I'm sure he'll continue to get the crowd excited with his play.
Workhorse. There is no better word to describe the ongoing excellent efforts from Jade. His size and good speed combine to make Jade perhaps the most effective forechecking forward on the team. Jade has four assists this season which is just one point shy of his totals from last season when he bagged 3 goals and added two assists.
Jade's efforts could also earn him the moniker of most unsung player on the team. He has been solid 5 on 5 and is always effective down low on the cycle but his PK work deserves props. He's committed in his zone to blocking and shows lots of leadership in that area as a good example to younger players. Jade appears to have a separated shoulder but I've gotten no specific word on that and/or exactly when he may be healthy enough to return to the lineup.
Justin has appeared in just 4 games this season. In his D1 debut he contributed two goals against Mankato. I'd heard lots of good things about Justin's abilities prior to that and I've been pretty happy with what I've seen when he's cracked the lineup. His best attribute to me seems to be his hockey sense (anticipation). It was that which created his goals.
In his most recent action against Denver, I noted his intensity. Justin has good stickhandling skills and in time should become a key playmaking forward who can also finish. With a lot of depth at the forward position Justin will have to work hard in practice and contribute when he gets opportunities to earn a regular spot in the 2nd half. The more patience he shows with regard to playing time and development the more it will benefit him over his career here.
I believe Wes will at some point in his hockey career skate in the NHL. In his injury shortened first half he has shown me more than enough to make that call. He is ultra smooth looking looking in all situations. He handles the puck very well and makes good decisions whether that's an accurate breakout pass or a carry. I think I used the Fetisov comparison already and I think I'll stick with that.
He's calm, can move the puck with great passing and his exceptional skating is a pleasure to see. He's a natural. Time is Wes' friend in terms of development. He isn't small or big at 6'1" 190lbs but over time he'll learn how to better utilize his strengths at this level. In the next 16 games we certainly will witness some more goals from him. He has a very heavy shot and can take it first time. He should grow into a very important power play asset/quarterback.
I would have projected Alex to be a top six forward this year but the way things have played out he's ended up more as a role player in his 17 starts. Alex has seem time playing at center this season which I'm assuming is his most natural postion but played mostly on the wing. He is deceptively strong and has been effective along the boards.
He has no goals to show for his good efforts this season but like Craig Parkinson has been good on the draw. Alex has good speed and over time like other sophomores on the squad will develop into more of a scoring threat as he gets the opportunities to play a scoring versus checking role.
Brad showed us lots of his capabilities last year when he joined the team for the second half. There is no better poke check on the team than Brad. He has strong hands and great timing. Brad has some potential to play forward during the 2nd half depending on the health of the blueliners. He is an important cog back there though providing leadership and stability.
I really like Brad going forward with the puck. He always has his head up, is smart and can find the open man for a quality dish. He has a heavy shot though we haven't seen as much of that as I think we could have. His single assist so far this season is not representative of his contributions.
Since I'm listing players by stats Rob gets on the list here courtesy of his single assist. I imagine goaltenders love it when they pick up scoring points but of course that doesn't begin to tell their story. Since the Colorado College series in the Springs, Gunderson has been exceptionally solid if not flat out excellent. 4 or UAA's 5 wins have come with him in the net.
It took some time for him to find his feet early in the season but since that time he's looked very confident. He plays the angles well and always takes away the low shots. He's done a great job in the last six games coming out to the top of the crease and challenging shooters when earlier in the year that didn't appear to be the case and he got beat over his shoulders a few times. I fully expect that barring any major breakdowns that he'll get a fair majority of the remaining starts.
I suspect that Tyler has earned more starts in the 2nd half based on his really strong play over the last three games on the blueline. Playing defense wasn't how I expected Tyler to break into the lineup. At forward he's shown potential as an effective energy player on a checking line. But his last three games on the blueline have been absolutely great.
He's shown smart positional play. He's strong and shown an ability to handle himself along the boards against hard charging forwards. I was particularly impressed with his last game against DU when he showed enough confidence to rush the puck on more than a couple of occasions.
His emergence and Kane Lafranchise's return on defense give the team lots of depth on D. He's really really been a pleasant surprise as a defenseman. That sort of flexibility is always useful in a depth player.
With the surge of well performing freshman Mickey has found himself watching from the stands much more during his sophomore year than probably anyone would have anticipated. His six appearances this season were pretty much all in role playing modes. Generally, I'd peg Mickey as a top six style player but he's performed well enough in the checking role when he's dressed on the 3rd and 4th lines.
Mickey showed last year that he has what it takes skills-wise to play in this league. His challenge now will be to show the coaching staff during practice that he can be productive and then actually producing when he gets his chances.
I think that Chris' primary contribution this season is an important one. He is a leader amongst the underclassmen. He's only appeared in 7 games this season which is due to the excellent play of some freshman forwards. Chris is a hard checking forward. He is mature, tough and dedicated.
Whether he's on the ice or in the stands I think he's an important asset to the team. I predicted last year that Chris might one day wear the C for UAA. To do that he's going to have to find a way to crack the lineup more regularly during the 2nd half and in the future. Wearing the C means playing.
I'm no less impressed and delighted with Quinn's play at this point in the season that I was after just a few games when I sang his praises. He's appeared in 17 of 18 games and I'd characterize him at this point as ready to drop the rookie tag. He's disciplined and steady in his own end. He only has 3 penalties so far. He tracks his man well in the defensive zone and always seems to be on the puck quickly in that end.
I personally think he could take more chances going forward but am guessing he just hasn't quite developed that confidence or perhaps he's just naturally conservative. I like his pairing with Wes McLeod and that seemed to work well early in the season. Quinn should continue to play regularly in the 2nd half.
I'm left to wonder if perhaps Drew has some nagging injuries of which we're unaware. He took nice strides last season in becoming comfortable at this level. Some early season rookie-type mistakes were quickly corrected. If he isn't injured then it's only the excellent play of Sproule that has probably kept him out of the lineup so frequently. As the season progresses it will be interesting to see how Tyler Currier's blueline opportunities affect Drew's playing time as well.
In any other season, Andrew probably would have appeared in twice as many games as the five he's gotten into this season. He's played limited minutes in those games and while I haven't seen anything spectacular from him, he certainly hasn't been disappointing.
I thought he was energetic and effective in the last game against DU before the break and made a mental note that his performance ought to give Coach Shyiak something to think about. I think he can be a contributor but it's just a matter of being able to crack a deep forward lineup.
Rob Gunderson's emergence over the last 6 games has seemed for now to put Chris solidly in the backup slot. During the early season when both guys were platooning there didn't seem to be much to distinguish their play from one another. Perhaps the only exception being his apparent excellence handling the puck outside the crease. Chris made some athletic and acrobatic saves but I think was unfortunate in that during his starts the team didn't play as well in front of him.
His challenge now will be to push Rob for playing time and remain ready to play at all times. Coach Shyiak should have no hesitation inserting him into the starting role for at least as many starts as he's had in the 1st half. It's important down the stretch to have two guys you can count on and that will only happen if Kamal gets some starts under his belt.
So there it is. I tried to give comprehensive thoughts about each player. Overall I'm real pleased with what I've seen out of each of these guys in one way or another. I tried to be candid about any shortcomings or performance issues that I noticed but quite honestly my optimism about each of these players prevents any sort of negativity.
I'd invite all readers to comment specifically and help out where I missed some attribute you've noticed. I won't have a lot more to say between now and the beginning of the 2nd half. I'll try to have some sort of team-based performance review and a preview of the 2nd half just after the beginning of year. So unless there's some breaking news the comment string below should be active til then.