ICE HAWKS: Rochester preps invade the Nest
(ADDITION ... Here's a link to the photo slide show by Scott Jacobson from Saturday's game, including some sick shots of the Roch HS kids skating onto the ice for introductions. LINK TO SLIDE SHOW and here's a link to my game story GAME STORY LINK )
PHERSY: We're just a few hours away from area high school boys hockey teams dropping the puck on the 2012-13 season, so I thought I'd check in with a few thoughts from Saturday's Rochester Ice Hawks game, where six Rochester high school players made their home junior hockey debut.
Rochester Mayo's Adam Alcott, Ryan Martin, Tommy Hanson and Will Holtan, along with John Marshall's Gavin Sandwick and Nick Paulson, all skated for the Ice Hawks over the weekend (in case you've been living under a rock). With 10 Ice Hawks out due to a violation of team rules, the Rochester HS players were a great and much-needed addition to a team struggling to fill out a lineup card.
Friday night in Maple Grove was rough. The Ice Hawks lost to the Energy for the first time, though coach Nick Fatis said he thought the high school kids played well, despite being a little tentative.
Saturday, the Ice Hawks bounced back with a blowout win over the last-place Hudson Crusaders.
So, how did the Rochester high schoolers play?
Well, it was a mixed bag.
First, the bad news ...
They definitely were tentative at times. There were several times a high school forward had the puck against the boards and it needed to come off the boards much, much quicker. There were a few times they got too "individual" and held onto the puck when it should have been given to a teammate.
Now, the good news ...
The young kids did not shy away from physical play. And a few of them could play at this level tomorrow and do very well in the Minnesota Junior Hockey League. And all six of them, had they been with this team from Day 1, would be regulars in the MnJHL. They're skilled enough players to do very well at this level or above. And after a few weeks of practice with the Ice Hawks, I have no doubt they'd look 10 times better than they did over the weekend.
I think Nick Paulson's quote after the game really summed up what the high school kids should take away from this experience: "... you need to go hard at all times. You can't take a shift off because every shift matters."
And that was clear Saturday.
Take, for instance, Paulson's goal (pretty sweet for him to light the lamp in his second junior-hockey game). Yes, it was a nice finish for Paulson. But that goal was much more about the 20 seconds of hard work behind the net leading up to the chance. Paulson and his linemates busted their rear-ends behind the net, simply outworking the Crusaders to create the opportunity.
I think there are times in high school hockey — especially against lower-level teams — that you can take a shift off and get away with it. In junior hockey, most of these players are too darn good to get away with being lazy for 30 seconds. Do it, and the puck ends up in the back of the net and you don't have a very happy goalie.
Now, as far as the high school kids go, I think there are a few of them who could play right now in the MnJHL.
No. 1 for me is Gavin Sandwick. While I'd say most of the forwards had a rough time adjusting to the speed and lack of chemistry with teammates, Sandwick's skill set worked nicely at this level. Sandwick might get a shot with an NA team, but if not, man, he'd look good in an Ice Hawks sweater.
Next up is Will Holtan. He's big and athletic enough to make up for any mistakes he makes. Coach Fatis said Holtan was one of the most "coachable" high school kids he's dealt with. That's high praise, if you ask me. Holtan could come in here and do well immediately.
Finally, Ryan Martin. Coach Fatis was enamored of Martin for sure. He probably didn't stick out to the average Ice Hawks fan. But Martin did everything well. He worked his bag off every time he was on the ice, and he made his teammates better because of that hard work. Martin is a kid who can come into the Ice Hawks program, do well and be a captain by his second year. I really hope to see him wearing that sweater some day.
Paulson is another kid worth mentioning ... he's big, has nice hands, and he seemed to learn a great deal from this experience. He's a kid who really did look like he improved before our eyes on Saturday night, and he looked like a regular by the end of the game.
OK, that's it for the high school kids.
Now, for the regulars ...
Let's hope all the suspended Ice Hawks take care of their business this week and are ready to go for this weekend's games. I tweeted this earlier, and I really do believe it ... there are two directions the Ice Hawks can go from here. They can let this mess tear the team apart, or they can become stronger because of it.
Fatis seems to believe they're a better team because of it ... I think we'll find that out this weekend, when the Ice Hawks host the Ducks on Friday and the Lakers on Saturday.
That said, when Tencza has the puck on his stick, he makes defensemen look silly. On his goal, he split two defenders, making a filthy move and then one monster stride past both guys. And then he torched the netminder. Tencza also had a couple of toe drags during the game that just made me shake my head, blown away by his puck-handling skills.
On defense, Brett Gates stood out. He's big, he's physical, and he doesn't make big mistakes. Gates is a guy who's really helped keep the blue line together as that unit has struggled through injuries and suspensions.
Gates is also one of the team's most dedicated players. He doesn't miss a workout at the RAC, and I know his coaches notice stuff like that. Gates looks like a defenseman who will do well in college hockey.
Oh, and Jarrett Pfeiffer is darn good, too. Playmaker who makes his teammates better ... kid's fun to watch.
OK, that's all I've got for now. I'll check in later this week, when I sit down with coach Fatis for the audio bit.