Hockey season in swing
With the playing of the annual Black and Gold game Saturday night, and the start of the NHL season taking place last Wednesday, hockey season is in swing.
At the NHL level, we have already been treated to some crazy, high-scoring affairs, starting with Washington’s 7-0 blanking of Boston and multiple 7-6 overtime games involving Pittsburgh, Chicago, Toronto and others. Toronto’s Auston Matthews already has eight points through just three games, including an overtime winner off a pass from former San Jose Sharks draft pick Patrick Marleau.
Sorry, I could not help myself on the Sharks reference.
Actually, speaking of the Sharks, they made huge headlines by acquiring Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson on the eve of training camp. While it has been fun to listen to pundits suggest that the Sharks were now frontrunners for the Stanley Cup because of the addition of Karlsson, it has been winger Evander Kane who has created the bulk of the offense for San Jose, with two goals in three games.
While the Sharks have started the year 1-2-0 after a loss yesterday to the New York Islanders, several teams expected to be middling this year are off to great starts. The reality is we are very early into a long season and hockey is more of a marathon than a sprint.
Meanwhile, the Huskies debuted their 11 new faces and a 12th who missed half of last season in defenseman Keegan Ford Saturday.
Ford looked tentative in the first half, which makes sense as he had not played in a game situation since December. However, the longer the night went on, and after a trade to the Black squad, he seemed to get his skates underneath him and started making veteran decisions that have to be heartening for head coach Joe Shawhan, whose defense has sustained two large graduating classes, leaving behind some sophomores and a couple of juniors who have not played that much.
One such sophomore who caught my attention almost immediately was Cooper Watson, who was playing for Black. The younger brother of former captain Cliff, Cooper had to work his way into the lineup, seeing the ice for the first time in the Alabama-Huntsville series at home, but then having to wait until after Christmas to get back on the ice.
Cooper jumped deep into the offensive zone on an early shift and was able to prevent the Gold team from completing a breakout. He made other smart plays throughout the night.
Senior winger Jake Jackson and junior center Alex Smith showed flashes of what they bring to the ice every game for the Huskies throughout the night. In the second half, they, working together with freshman Trenton Bliss, pinned Gold in its own zone for close to a minute at a time more than once. That relentless pressure they put on rubbed off on the other lines for Black and eventually led to a goal by Jackson.
Bliss, who says that he models his game after that of Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, proved to be a good foil for the two upperclassmen. He did not try to do too much, which can happen with a first-year player. Instead, he seemed to try to complement them by jumping into the fray when he needed to, and finding soft spots in the defense when he had the time to do so.
For Gold, the line of senior Jake Lucchini, junior Gavin Gould, and sophomore Greyson Reitmeier might have seemed, on paper, like a strange combination, but given Lucchini and Gould’s penchant for playing fast, Reitmeier actually provided good support for both. Reitmeier has modeled his game after that of Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn, and he possesses the ability to create the time and space his two smaller linemates need to be effective.
Another freshman who impressed both Shawhan and I was winger T.J. Polglaze. Polglaze, who spent last season under the tutelage of former Huskies’ assistant Gary Shuchuk, provided energy by constantly moving his feet and trying to find open ice. He was often opposite junior Raymond Brice, and the duo seemed to work off of each other quite well. They both play a similar game, and that could make things difficult for opposing defensemen as both work hard to get a jump on their opponents.
Polglaze was also the recipient of a nearly perfect pass from Brice late in the contest. While he did not score, he get make sure to force goaltender Robbie Beydoun to make a tough save.
Beydoun and his battery mates, senior Devin Kero and junior Matt Jurusik, all looked good, stopping nearly everything thrown their way.
Beydoun made a great glove save off the stick of sophomore Marcus Russell late in the first half. Kero stopped a blast from Watson at the left point after a feed from Bliss early in the second half. Jurusik made several saves look routine and stood his ground to stop a penalty shot by Smith with just over eight minutes left.
Kero did surrender the lone goal, but college hockey fans would be hard-pressed to find a goaltender who would have stopped the shot from Jackson that beat him.
In all, several freshmen looked good in their debuts in the Black and Gold. I, for one, am excited to see who makes it into the lineup Friday night when the Huskies take on Minnesota-Duluth.