Eye on the Tigers: Defensive corps obvious strength headed into opening practices

Published: September 6, 2013, 4:03 am, by Joe Paisley

RSchwartz_BSU1The unofficial start of the CC hockey season gets underway early next week with the first captain’s practices. I have not had an opportunity to see the newcomers in action and the non-contact drills and such show little when you do get a glimpse.

I’ll have more later as I get more eyeball time over the next month, building up to the home and season opening series against Minnesota-Duluth Oct. 18-19. We’ll get a hint from the two exhibition games Oct. 5 and 12.

In the interim, here’s my breakdown by position:

Forwards (17)

My take: The top returning scorer, senior left wing Alexander Krushelnyski (43 points, 15 goals), is back along with seniors Archie Skalbeck (23, 12 goals), Jeff Collett (10, seven assists) and junior Charlie Taft (18, 10 assists).  You can expect all four to tally those numbers if not more.

The key could be the second-year improvement of sophomores Hunter Fejes (14, eight goals) and center Cody Bradley (13, nine assists), who must stay healthy so his playmaking skills can be utilized. Fejes, an NHL draft pick by Phoenix, blossomed during the second half last season.

How much senior Michael Morin, juniors Jordan DiGiando and Scott Wamsganz, sophomores Jared Hanson and Peter Maric can chip in could be critical early. All showed flashes of potential last season.

The Tigers will need to replace 47.9 percent of its points and 52.6 of its goals lost to graduation. In the meatgrinder that will be the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, every point from whomever will be precious.

The six newcomers will get an opportunity to contribute as well. The freshmen are: Luc Gerdes, Sam Rothstein, Christian Heil, Matt Hanson, Zach Aman and Alex Roos. It promises to be a solid group.

Defensemen (8)

My take: This group is quite deep with four draft picks – juniors Aaron Harstad and Peter Stoykewych, both Winnipeg; and freshmen Gustav Olofsson (Minnesota) and Jaccob Slavin (Carolina) in the mix.

Add in captain Eamonn McDermott and it looks like sophomores Russell Finch, Michael King and junior Ian Young will be fighting for that final spot in the lineup. That is a good position for a team to be in.

Also expect some of the offensive slack to be picked up by Olofsson, Slavin, McDermott (23 points, 20 assists) and assistant captain Stoykewych (11, nine assists). Harstad and Young have shown some offensive ability as well.

Goalies (3)

My take: Here lies the second-biggest question mark after scoring; goaltending.That said, there is a chance this could become a plus for the Tigers assuming senior Josh Thorimbert shakes off last season (.873 saves percentage) and returns to the form he displayed as a sophomore (.924).

If not, freshman Tyler Marble, nine months older than Thorimbert, and coming off two strong junior hockey seasons, could step in as a very capable No. 1. Tiger fans should hope both play well and can share playing time.  Junior Courtney Lockwood remains a good backup and teammate.