Friday, September 18, 2015

The 2015-2016 UAA Hockey Sophomore Class

There are many factors which will contribute to or detract from the Seawolves' success this coming season. One thing I'm pretty sure is that as this class of six skaters and two goaltenders goes, so goes the team. 

Skaters Matt Anholt, Austin Azurdia, Jarrett Brown, Anthony Conti, Tanner Johnson, Tad Kozun and goaltenders Jared D'Amico and Olivier Mantha are all players upon whom Coach Thomas and the team is going to depend on to play up to their potential. On a class by class basis, this group of players should produce the most scoring.

Matt Anholt will likely captain this Seawolf team sometime in the future. His natural leadership abilities will serve a positive purpose this season but will not be Matt's primary role. His skill as a two-way forward is likely what Coach Thomas will want. He is a capable goal-scorer and will bag a few this season but he is not a goal scorer. Matt could have an important role mentoring freshmen on the ice or he could lead an effective shut-down line that Thomas could throw out against the #1 opponent's line. Expect to see him in the line-up every night.

Austin Azurdia had a real nice freshman season with his 8 goals and 6 assists. Seems like it's been quite a while since we saw a freshman plunk that many home in a season.  Expectations being what they are ... Austin's gonna need to get at least that many goals this season. He's got a year of experience at this level now. The part about playing up to one's potential is the big deal here. Austin is going to play on the 1st or 2nd line and unlike Matt Anholt ... his primary job is going to be to score. He showed us last year that he's a goal scorer; I'm expecting double digits under the "goals" column in Austin's case.

Jarrett Brown showed me everything I really needed to see about him pretty early on last season. That isn't to say I know everything about him as a player. But instead ... that I know he's a more than capable WCHA defensemen. He's got the necessary tools to do the job that defensemen need to do. He's solid along the boards and able to compete for the puck. He knows his job in front of the net and keeps his head up to know how best to transition the play. He's got real good wheels and hands and can carry the puck effectively or move it with a pinpoint long pass. Every game this guy plays will make him a better player at this level.

Anthony Conti had a decent output as a freshman bagging 4 goals with 6 assists. Conti is a big rangey and strong power winger with good hands and feet. He came in a year early but played well last year and likely benefitted more from the experience than his fellow classmates. I can think of more to say about Anthony but getting to the point is more important. There's no reason in my mind for Conti to not score 10 goals this season.

Jared D'Amico will start this season knowing that Olivier Mantha is the #1 guy in the crease. His job this season is to be ready to play his best whenever he gets the call. I'd guess the plan puts Jared in 10 or 12 games. Jared played well enough last season that there are D1 teams where he'd be the #1 guy. But he's playing behind Mantha. So there's that.

Tanner Johnson hit the ice at the Sully last year looking like he fit right in. The descriptions I used for Jarrett Brown also apply to Tanner. He has all the necessary tools to do a good job on the backline. He moves the puck smartly out of the zone. He looks for offensive opportunities. His experience last season and in each game this season will make him a better defenseman every weekend.

Tad Kozun also had a real nice freshman season with 6 goals and 9 assists. Copy and paste most everything I said about Austin Azurdia here ... "primary job is going to be to score." Tad burned up the SJHL with goals playing juniors. And 6 goals last year is (like I said) real nice. Double that this season and I'll use a better adjective than just "nice" in next year's preview. He's capable of more than double.

Olivier Mantha is likely to be the most important player for the Seawolves this season. If the team plays just marginally better in front of him this season it will result in twice as many W's.  If they play marginally better in front of him AND score more goals at the other end then we're looking at 3 times as many W's. If the team plays substantially better in front of him and he gets the goal support we're capable of ... then you're looking at a 20 win season. None of this really depends on Mantha to play any better than he played last year. He's going to keep us in some games we don't deserve to be in and he's going to win us some games that we might not have deserved to win. Count on it.

This season most of the skaters we're going to see on any given night are going to be freshman. But most of the most important players on the ice on any given night are going to be from this sophomore class. And they all need to live up to their potential this season for the Seawolves to have anything we might label as success.

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