There's much room for optimism for 2014-2015 edition of the Seawolves Hockey team. The bad news is that Matt Bailey (20-18) and Jordan Kwas (13-19) took 33 goals with them when they graduated last season. The good news is that the next 14 highest scoring players are returning. The top three; Blake Tatchell (7-25), Scott Allen (17-14) and Brett Cameron (10-13) return 34 goals. Sophomore Brad Duwe (7-1) headlines the rest of the returners.
The 5ft 10in 185lb Tatchell is a classic smallish playmaking forward who can finish. He is rugged in the corners and strong on his skates. His best attributes are good anticipation and his vision. Blake led the team in scoring as a freshman (9-16) and was both rookie of the year and team's mvp dual award winner. Last season he tallied 7 goals and 25 assists. He'll be amongst the team scoring leaders this season, his maturity and experience as a junior will serve him well.
6ft 3in 207lb Scott Allen went from 19 points (12-7) as a sophomore to 31 points (17-14) as a junior. I can't find a reason to not think that 20 goals this season is beyond him. Scott knows how to find the back of the net and his exceptional work ethic and talent gets him to the places he needs to be to finish. He's strong with good speed and of course a good set of hands. Allen's continued high production will be a key factor for more team success this year.
6ft 3in 214lb Brett Cameron was teammates with Scott Allen in juniors at Spruce Grove in the AJHL for a couple of season. He's a hard charging forward who can and will fight through any physical challenge to gain possession or help create a scoring chance. He's got the wheels, skill and strength to increase his career high points (10-13) from last year.
Sophomore forward Brad Duwe 6ft 1in 187lbs scored all of his points (7-1) in the second half of last season. It looked as if he found his niche. I'm not positive that all his goals last season came from 5 feet or closer last year but that's where he really made his living last season once he found his stride. There's a lot of potential for this guy in 2014-15. He has "the knack" in front of the net. If he can only score at the same rate this season as the 2nd half last year then we're all in for a treat.
There's quite a bit of potential among the remaining returning forwards. Dylan Hubbs (4-6), Hudson Friesen (3-4) and Zach Rassell (3-4). All three of these guys lost their freshman status during the 2nd half by showing their were fully capable D-1 players. They each contributed key scoring down the stretch to help win crucial games. Hubbs 5ft 9in (seriously?) 167lbs is a nightmare for other teams to play against. He's got a bit of Kenny Linseman in him. Friesen reminds me a bit of Paul Crowder at times. Perhaps it's his frame 6ft 2in 199lbs. He showed a lot of improvement over the year and found himself often contributing nicely to scoring chances. Zach Rassell at 6ft 3in 224lbs puts his big frame, skating ability and hockey sense to good use. There's lots of reason to hope that one or more of these guys could have a big jump in total production. They're all capable.
Assessing the capabilities of the incoming freshman class is mostly guesswork. Their junior performances are all we have to look at really. Using that metric then it seems like Tad Kozun 5ft 11in 167lbs might be the one player to most highly anticipate. Kozun put up a real nice 38 goals with 27 assists last season for the Nipawin Hawks of the SJHL. He's well regarded and reportedly was on the NHL draft radar. I can't help but think of Blake Tatchell when I read about Kozun. Anthony Conti, Austin Azurdia and Matt Anholt round out the incoming rookie forwards. They each had reasonable junior production in the BCHL but honestly little stands out between them for me. Based on age one might think that Conti might have the most potential. He comes in a year early and turns 19 at the end of this month.
The blueline for the Seawolves looks real strong this season with six very experienced veterans returning. The backend should be a strength for the team this year. Austin Coldwell was 6th on the team last year in points scored with 6 goals and 13 assists. Blake Leask (1-7) was the 2nd leading scorer from the blueline last year. Expect to see both of these guys on the power play often this season. But offensive production shouldn't be the highlight of this year's defense. Defense should be the factor that most affects the Seawolves success. Austin Coldwell and Derek Docken will lead with experience in this their last season. Juniors Ben Matthews and Chris Williams and sophomore Chase Van Allen round out the returners. Rookies Jarrett Brown and Tanner Johnson will have to impress to crack this lineup on a regular basis. With untested young goaltending in front of them defensively play is likely going to be the key all season.
Rookie goalies Jared D'Amico and Olivier Mantha will both challenge returner Michael Matyas for the starting job. It'll be up in the air who gets the #1 job. Of course with three guys competing for the spot a platooning situation could occur if they all play well. Competition at that spot this season should prove to be another positive factor for the team's success.
There's every reason to anticipate this season highly. I'm expecting the WCHA Coaches Poll to put the Seawolves in the upper half when their predictions come out. Plenty of other fans around the league have expressed the same. I've always tended toward optimism in the past here and this year is no different. But for once, I think the stats and general expectations give that some measure of credibility.