Who's the new guy?
by Joseph Edwards/CHN Writer
Every fall, freshmen move onto college campuses across the country, lugging TVs, computers, micro-fridges, and clothing to stuff into their tiny dorm rooms. A few select first-year students will also move into recently-vacated lockers, arranging hockey sticks and equipment into lockers and finding out how big of skates they'll have to fill.
With those lockers come roster slots, and with those voids in the lineup come questions. Freshmen will be there to fill them in, but which ones will stand helmet and shoulder pads above the rest? Coaches from around the country say it will take a combination of a number of things to answer the queries.
"I don't think there's any one thing," Minnesota head coach Don Lucia says. Over his coaching tenure, Lucia has seen players along the likes of Kyle Okposo, Phil Kessel and Thomas Vanek make an immediate impact for his Gophers program.
Among their necessary hockey skill set, Lucia is quick to point out that a big part of the equation is what spots are open to freshmen.
Mark Dennehy, Lucia’s counterpart at Merrimack, echoes that sentiment.
"You try to replace the players you're losing that have helped your program," the Warriors coach says. "To be able to take minutes is something that we look at right away. We're just looking to improve player by player, just trying to improve every roster spot. For us, they have to come in and be able to compete.
"Learning on the job, being in a situation where you're going to be given opportunities that some freshmen aren't."
Being thrown right into the mix may be somewhat easier at a lower-profile school, but at a high-visibility program like 2008 National Champion Boston College, a player’s mental makeup is crucial to their success. Last season, Eagles coach Jerry York saw young players such as Joe Whitney and John Muse step in and immediately fill roles abdicated by Joe Rooney and Corey Schneider, and do so while playing integral roles in the Eagles' return to the Frozen Four for the third consecutive year.
"They have to be able to handle the pressure, and here, it's a unique kind of pressure," York says. "We've replaced guys like Patrick Eaves and Andrew Alberts, it's not a situation we're unfamiliar with."
While a strong psyche and available ice are important, there’s another trait a team newbie must have in order to make himself a campus-wide name: Plain, old ability.
"You have to look at the skill sets," Lucia says of the potential replacements. "Is he a good skater? Does he have good hands?"
"A lot of it is the skill level, the skating level," York agrees. "For the base of our team, we want a combination of speed, size, strength and skill. You need a combination of those types of players. You can't be successful and win championships with just speed and skill."
Being able to put it all together helps catch the coach’s eye, as well. For a lot of players, that comes with maturity, as older players will have a bigger impact, Lucia says.
"If you're big enough and strong enough, that’s going to give you ability as well," Dennehy concur. "It could be a guy who’s just so big and strong that he can compete against 23 and 24 year old guys."
At the beginning of last season, even the most casual of college hockey fan knew the names Kevin Shattenkirk, James VanRiemsdyk, and Kyle Turris because of what they were going to bring to the college hockey table. The threesome didn't disappoint, either, as BU, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin all reached the postseason with their help. They did, however, have their spotlight split even more by the time the Frozen Four came to a close. Richard Bachman at Colorado, St. Cloud’s Garret Roe, and Carter Camper in Miami made names for themselves and stuck out among their peers.
With the 2008-09 season looming, big names already exist in the form of incoming freshmen Blake Kessel at UNH, Jimmy Hayes at BC, and North Dakota’s David Toews. With the table set for them and the plethora of their first-year classmates arriving on campus, who will use their skills and maturity to snag a roster spot and a name for themselves in on college hockey message boards?
No one knows for sure, but everyone will find out soon enough.