Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Mid-Season Report Card

A subjective review based entirely on my opinions that ultimately took too long to write. Feel free to sound off in the comments section if you disagree. All of my criticisms are entirely constructive. As much as I would like to say that our team can beat the Detroit Red Wings, and everyone can drop out and play in the NHL tomorrow, realistically I can't, but without further ado, here we go.

Derek Bradish: B
It's hard to dock this guy at all, coming on as a walk on from the Ice Dogs and making the roster. Granted, he hasn't gotten any ice time, but for someone to come on with no interest in the next level to make the roster says something, says that he can work hard and get where he needs to be. If he works harder, some ice time may be in his future. But respect is deserved for keeping himself ready, should he need to play.

Adam Cardwell: B-
As a healthy scratch, Adam's been out of action for the last 9 games. He has skated pretty well, and plays pretty well in the defensive zone (I love players that play 2-way hockey), but apparently Coach thinks that he has some things to work on. He hasn't made a dent on the score sheet much, but has a goal on the season. Coach Ferguson, in his closing statements from the Nanooks' only Saturday loss to UNO stated [paraphrased] that a lot of the guys that haven't had a lot of ice time will see some more opportunities as the season goes on. Perhaps he has plans for Adam in the second half?

Justin Filzen: A
Justin's knee injury is a bit of a blow to the team, and has kept him out of action for the last six games. His .614 faceoff winning percentage is the highest on the team with a minimum 100 attempts, and his absence can definitely be felt there. When he came to the team, I thought he would be a stout forward, and I was right. He's the Tomas Holmstrom of the Nanooks, screening the goalie with his heels right on the lines of the crease. Coming from the Green Bay Gamblers, he played right across the street from my beloved Green Bay Packers' home stadium, Lambeau Field. Not that it really matters that much, but another reason to like him. Hopefully the knee injury doesn't keep him off the ice much longer, though. He may have just 3 points on the season, but he's on the plus side in plus/minus at +3, meaning the other side doesn't score much either when he's on the ice.

Carlo Finnuci: A+
I am really impressed with Carlo's improvement this year. He's been pairing up with Dustin Sather, and they've been knocking pucks in when it counts. Last season, Carlo played in just 16 games, and had a 1-2-3 scoring line. This year, he's played in 17 games, and has a 3-9-12 scoring line. At least I think that's a big improvement. He's got great wheels, and best of all, great vision. He can see Dustin get open on the other side of the ice, and gets the puck to him for the score. Same goes the other way, he can see a play developing and get into position to make a play. Carlo's line has got some great chemistry going, hopefully they can keep it going well into the second half.

Chad Gehon: A+
This kid has far exceeded my expectations for him this year, and he has got some serious wheels. He's got great hands, and he's really stepped up in the face-off circle, winning over 65% of faceoffs, taking over in the absence of Justin Filzen. Chad has done a great job stepping up. As a freshman, he's got some great potential ahead of him as he develops. He plays great on both sides of the red line, and hes only going to get better from here.

Jarret Granberg: A
If I had to pick one thing to say about Jarret, it's his discipline. In his final season in the AJHL, in 60 games played, he finished with just 42 penalty minutes, an average of about 40 seconds per game. In 17 games so far this season? 0... That's right, no penalties called on "Granny" so far this season. Though hes gotten away with a few, but he has yet to find his way to the sin bin this season. He has 5 goals on 38 shots, putting him among the highest in the team in shooting percentage (13.2%) and an even 0 in plus/minus, with a 5-3-8 scoring line. Definitely another rookie with a promising future.

Ryan Hohl: A-
Every team has a guy that's just fun to watch on the ice. It was disappointing to not see his final series against BGSU in Fairbanks, but you could see the hostility on TV. After spending two seasons on Bowling Green's bench without playing in a single game, Dallas got him to transfer over last year and he's been doing pretty well for the Blue and Gold. Granted, he's got a lot of penalty minutes, and he's not a standout on the score sheet, but he gets the job done. He's taken the first shot in all of our shoot outs this year, and he's got some good dangling tricks, but he's only notched one shoot out goal thus far.

Derek Klassen: A
The definition of a two-way hockey player. Derek has established himself as a star on our team. He causes turnovers, he intercepts passes, he wins over 55% of faceoffs, he's got 4 goals on the season, which ties the amount he had all of last season. He's an outstanding hockey player in every sense. He's got a great mind for the game, and it shows in every shift. I'm glad he's only a junior, and I'm looking forward to the rest of this season, and into next season to watch him lead the team. If only he can crack the scoring column a little more often...

Brandon Knelsen: A
After spending a few games on the bench with an injury, Brandon hasn't gotten back in his groove yet, which leads me to believe he's still playing through a bit of a nagging injury, something coach Ferguson touched on in the last post game conference. Although his younger brother kind of steals the spotlight, Brandon is a worthy contributor to the team in his own right. I like what coach Ferguson is doing with Brandon and the power play unit. If you watch, occasionally, you'll see coach sub out a defenseman with either Brandon, or Carlo Finnuci, leaving four forwards and a lone defenseman. It's a good balance, considering both Carlo and Brandon are quite skilled, defensively. 2 of Brandon's 3 assists came from that power play line. Although not as apparent now due to the injury, but Brandon is also a very skilled skater. Very mobile, very quick feet, and extremely well balanced. Hopefully this nice long break we get this year gives him a chance to rest and rehabilitate and get back into the groove.

Dion Knelsen: A+
Dion leads the team in goals, and is the second leading scorer, right behind Andy Taranto. Dion's been the consistent scorer for the team for the past few years, and its sad to say that this will be his last year in the NCAA. He's a very valuable player, especially on the penalty kill. The kid can dangle, and when he gets the puck shorthanded, he can hang on to it and keeps it away from opposing skaters. I think Dion is an extremely valuable player on both sides of the puck, and on special teams. He's an all around complete player that will be missed. Seriously, there is too many things to say about Dion to cram into a single paragraph. Check out my previous article, recapping the RPI game from October, and watch the embedded video of Dion's shoot out goal against Allen York. That would be Dion's impression of Pavel Datsyuk... Glorious. On another note, Dion needs just 6 more points to crack 100 in his career for the Nanooks to enshrine him in the Nanooks Century Club. Okay, so there isn't exactly a shrine, but that's a pretty great milestone for him to be hit, among the ranks of some of the best in Nanook hockey history.

Ron Meyers: A+
Ronnie has made a name for himself as a play maker as of late. It all started last season in the final game of the 3 game home playoff series against Ohio State. Deadlocked at zero, with the clock winding down, the Cowboy knocked the games only goal in off of the goalie's own pads with just under a minute left on the clock in the 3rd period to take the Nanooks to The Joe. In similar fashion this season, in the overtime win against Ferris State, it was Ronnie who pick-pocketted the Ferris defenseman (who shall go unnamed) and ripped one top shelf for the OT winner. It was a thing of beauty. But when he's not scoring game winning goals, he's tears it up on the forecheck. For a forward, he's also got a great sense of defense, getting down, blocking shots, but he also spends a lot of time on the penalty kill unit, and rightfully so with his coverage skills.

Kevin Petovello: A
Kevin had a bad run of luck with an injury for the majority of the first half of the season. Quite unfortunate, and he's just now getting back into it. Hopefully he can rest a bit over the break and get back up to speed. He's looked pretty good in the few games I saw him play in at the end of the first half, but it looked like he was playing a bit conservative, which likely means he's playing through a nagging injury. Rest will only benefit him coming into the second half. He's a great player, and will likely live up to that in the second half.

Cody Rymut: A
Cody hasn't played a single game outside of the Blue/Gold game to kick off the season. Therefore, his grade isn't about hockey, its about his academics. On the ice, he's got some serious wheels, but off the ice, he's got serious brains. As a senior, he's nearing graduation with a degree in petroleum engineering. Now, that's not exactly a cake walk degree either. I've seen the degree requirements, and I've met a few petroleum engineering majors myself, and it takes a lot. And for Cody to take 21 credits of it in one semester, hard to believe he can play a sport with that kind of load. And he does it all while remaining academically eligible to play when he is needed. Bravo.

Dustin Sather: A+
In Dustin's junior career, he was a scoring machine, and he had a good rookie season, scoring 23 points for the Nanooks, 4th highest on the team. He kind of lost his groove last season, and only amassed 9 points in 34 games. Well, he's found his groove so far this season, already surpassing last years point total with 10 points currently, and he's got some good chemistry going with his current line-mate, Carlo Finucci. Both Carlo and Dustin have really stepped up this year and have added considerable scoring depth for the Blue and Gold.

Andy Taranto: A+
I really had high hopes for Andy coming into this season, and he didn't disappoint. The guy is a monster. 22 points already this season? Dion finished the season with a team high 22 points last year. You can tell that other teams are very aware that the NCAA's leading rookie scorer is on the ice when they play us, because they've always got two guys in his vicinity that clamp down on him when he gets the puck. UNO covered him the best they could in both games, but in the final goal of the series, he still found twine. Andy's an amazing skater that can do some sick things with that stick of his. He brings some serious scoring and has definitely help coach Ferguson re-charge the Alaska offense, which averaged under two goals per game last season, and has been vamped up to three goals per game thus far this season.

Nik Yaremchuk: A
Starting this season, when I was looking at our recruits, I didn't know where this kid would fit into the team, standing at just 5' 9".Well he's found his spot alright, right on the Nanooks first line, and has had a great first half. He's third on the team in scoring, and it's pretty obvious why. Well, Nik isn't very big, but he can skate past most of his foes and with his fast moves and good awareness, he pressures the puck very well, causing turnovers, and leads the forecheck. It's a toss up between Nik and Gehon as to which rookie has surprised me the most, but Nik has had an outstanding first half, and if he carries it throughout the rest of the season, he's going to set himself up for success throughout the rest of his career here.


Cody Butcher: A-
With just six games played, and three points, with an average of .5 points per game says the limited ice time he's had, he's made count. With the fastest shot on the team (93mph!), he can be dangerous from the point. If he doesn't hit twine, he'll make someone sorry they tried to block him. He's got some good accuracy to go with that shot as well. With just two shots on goal, he has one goal, while the other hit the upper part of the right post. He's got some good talent, but with limited ice time, it's hard to show that, but he's done what he can with what he's had. But he's definitely an offensive defenseman that has a tendency to get pulled into the play at inopportune times, which can lead to bad opportunities going the other way, and ultimately resulted in the minus grade.

Justin Daigle: B
A good rookie that has good potential. With the limited time he's seen, he has shown that he can skate right up with anyone. Going back to the Blue/Gold game, watching him skate against Dion showed just that. He does a good job getting his stick down and getting in the passing lanes, but he needs to improve on his positioning. At -4 thus far, some minor changes, he can be a good candidate for a full-time line spot if not late this year, next year.

Scott Enders: A-
I really like watching Scott play, I think he is a very solid defenseman. Great positioning, great in transition, and not afraid to make the check. He sets up shop in front of Greenham and locks out the slot and the crease area, and doesn't let the puck get through. He's got a lot of penalty minutes though, a few of which I have notes of bad calls, but regardless its pretty unfortunate to see that. Unfortunately, the score sheet doesn't really prove his worth on the ice, either. At -4, he's a lot better than his plus/minus shows.

Aaron Gens: A
A perennial first line defenseman has put up 10 points so far in the first half of the season, matching the mark he put up in 32 games last season. You gotta love how he gets down in the shooting lanes, blocks shots, disrupts the passing lanes, and puts on the pressure, and forces shots. In the offensive zone, he plays smart, gets involved when he needs to, but he follows the puck and stays in position to make a play. Another one of our many sophomores that has nothing but a great future ahead. Going from wearing number 2 last year, to number 5 this year, I wonder if that was the difference maker? Maybe...

Bryant Molle: A+
Bryant is definitely putting up his best year, and is looking really good. He has vastly improved his game this season, and has stepped up quite a bit. He registered his first collegiate goal this season and is a "multi-tool" on defense. Bryant has a big frame and helps in coverage not only by getting in the passing and shooting lanes, but coming in tight, he disrupts the opponent's vision. Kind of hard making a blind pass or shot... He wore the roaming 'A', rightfully identifying him as an alternate captain for a few games this season just shortly after he registered his first goal, an overtime game winner against Lake Superior State.

Dustin Molle: A
Dustin is playing a very high level game and has gotten noticeably faster than he was last year. Dustin is another big guy, probably the biggest on the team, and he uses his size to his advantage. I like what Dustin brings to the table, he's an excellent coverage guy, and his passing is great. He plays safe most of the time, but isn't afraid to take a penalty (he's taken 8 minors thus far this season). For some reason though, USCHO's stats are a bit off, saying that he didn't have any penalties...ever. A stat that I'm sure anyone wouldn't mind being true...

Kaare Odegard: A
If you want to go entirely off the score sheet, Kaare is our most valuable player at +7. Pretty crazy thus far in the season. He's another rookie I've been impressed with. He's great in transition, helps out on the forecheck, gets some pressure and disrupts the passing on the backcheck, and overall, he's quite solid defensively. He's gotten some good ice time in a position where we have considerable depth, which means coach Ferguson has some trust in him as a rookie. He's not a very big guy, either. At just 5' 11" 184lb, he's got a slight disadvantage in that department. But that doesn't seem to phase him very much...

Joe Sova: A+
Joe is an amazing player. He's got outstanding positioning, and he'll dive in front of a shot to take away a scoring chance before the puck even gets to Greenham. He's 4th among scoring defensemen in the CCHA, and leads all CCHA defenseman in goals scored with 4, tied with Eddie Del Grosso, a familiar blue-liner from UNO. When it comes to coverage, it doesn't get much better than this. Joe has a huge amount of blocked shots, 42 to be exact, which is about 10% of the amount that Scott Greenham has in terms of saves. Last year, as a freshman, he skated in all 39 games, and massed a total of 10 points. Well, he's already got 10 points half way through, so if he keeps doubling his scores, his senior year could be an 80 point season! Okay, maybe not very realistic, but he really is a hell of a player. But beware, when he's on the ice, opposing players better keep their head on a swivel...

Scott Greenham: B+
The Nanooks were pretty spoiled last year in net with Chad Johnson. A sad offensive front, a stout defense, and an absolute brick wall in net got fans used to a goalie that stopped everything sent his way, and now they kind of expect it. Sure, there were some goals that he should have kept out. Every goalie lets a few by that they would like to have back, but you can't blame the guy. He only had 5 starts last year, and he's still got a winning record, and among the top 25 goaltenders in the country. He's only going to get better with time. The more he plays, the better he will get. Fortunately, our offense has found some life, and are scoring upwards of 3 goals a game, something which takes a little bit of stress off of your goaltender.

Steve Thompson/Collin Rundell: A
In college, professors have the ability to give what are called "No Basis" grades, which are basically reserved for people who forgot to drop the class. These guys show up to practice, and they learn. From what I've heard, the morale is high, and its been a fun battle between the two for the number two spot to back up Greenham. When the team travels, the team can only take one goaltender for fiscal purposes, so the two backups have been battling for that second spot for a weekend getaway, and Collin Rundell edged out Thompson a little later in the first half and got on the plane and went to Western Michigan for a series. I thought the two net-minders were pretty close in skill after watching the Blue/Gold game, and I guess I was right. We may get a chance to see one, maybe both of these guys in a game in the second half, should the right circumstances present themselves.

Overall Team: A
I think the Nanooks have been playing some very high level hockey this season. In just his second year, Coach Ferguson is on another roll with a winning season. Last year, we had a defense that was very...well...anal to say the least, and had one of the top defenses in terms of goals allowed per game in the country. But, we had some trouble scoring, and this year, that's all changed. We've opened up a bit in the way of defense, but its our forwards that have been putting up the numbers. Coach Ferguson made some great comments during the post game conference of our first Saturday loss mentioning that the crowd has been disappointed with the splits, and spoke of how good the break would be for the team's health. I can definitely agree with both.

Sure, we're taking points from each series, and we haven't been swept. Great, but at the same time, we're dropping points to, statistically, weak teams that we need to sweep. We are 22nd at the current moment in PairWise rankings, 6 spots removed from a spot in the NCAA tournament. And in the CCHA standings, we are in 4th place with Lake Superior kicking at our heels. I hate to be critical here, but the reality is, we're going to need some 6 point weekends to move up and get into the tournaments. Now, the Nanooks have a great shot at making a run at both the NCAA and CCHA tournaments, probably the best shot they are going to have for a while with some very valuable seniors leaving the lineup next season. But, it's going to take some hard work to get there. Now, anyone that knows me, and I've mentioned it here before as well, but I'm a huge football fan too, and undeniably the greatest coach in NFL history, whose name appears on the leagues most coveted trophy, said the following: "Dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you're willing to pay the price." Extremely applicable in the Nanooks' situation down the stretch.

But I believe that injuries have attributed to our shortcomings. A lot of our players have had an injury in some form or another, some minor, some a bit more severe. But the break came at our advantage and a lot of our guys should get a well deserved and much needed rest to mend off the nagging injuries that a lot of our guys have been faced with.

In terms of performance, I think the Nanooks have played some very good hockey this season. It's been a good run thus far. A little disappointing sometimes not getting the big saves, or coming up short on a good scoring chance, but that's how the game goes. The team has yet to allow a goal in overtime, and are undefeated in shootouts, which definitely helps us in terms of CCHA standings points (keep in mind, the NCAA standings still count it as a tie). The Nanooks have a considerably more difficult second half coming up and points may be hard to come by, but our opponents aren't going to get points away from us easily, if at all.

The second half of the season starts this week end with a rematch against UNO at the Qwest Center in Omaha. Preview to come...

Congratulations are in order for UNO's coach Dean Blais for leading Team USA to the gold medal in the World Junior Hockey Championships, defeating Team Canada today in a 6-5 upset. I hope this weekend was fun for coach Blais, because the Nanooks are comin' to town to take care of business.

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