Monday, July 28, 2008

Playing your Seniors Part II: Tom Gorowsky

Earlier this month in his post "Playing your Seniors", Gandalf talked about Eaves' decision to play defenseman Josh Engel at forward in order to give the senior more ice time. As Gandalf mentioned, using Engel at F pushed the forward who would otherwise have played out of the lineup, and the most likely suspects for that spot were Tom Gorowsky and Andy Bohmbach. I'd like to think that both players would have had something to offer -- perhaps some scoring from Gorowsky, and perhaps some physical play from Bohmbach -- and I'd also like to think that their play would have benefited from the additional playing time.

Don't get me wrong; I have no problem with Eaves' desire to get Engel on the ice -- IIRC, he was the oldest player on the team, and last year's team was quite young and in need of experience and leadership from the older players on the team. Nor do I have a problem with Engel's overall performance, as he acquitted himself fairly well. However, I do think that other players would have been more offensively effective than Engel, and I think the team would have benefitted more from Engel's presence on the blueline. The blueline was extremely young last season, and Brendan Smith struggled quite a bit, especially as he seemed to lose confidence. Other defensemen also struggled, and while Eaves seemed to have no problem sitting forwards to send a message, I wonder why he hesitated to sit certain defensemen (and instead play Engel) when they appeared to be underperforming.

Now let's move on to the real topic of this post: Tom Gorowsky. As a senior, would his presence on the ice provide stability and leadership? Or would it push more deserving players off the ice? If given more playing time last year, would Gorowsky have been able to better step up his game? If given the opportunity this year, will he take advantage of it?

Before trying to answer these questions, let's take a look at Gorowsky's career with the Badgers so far.

Freshman year: Following up an excellent high school career with a pretty good season in the USHL, Gorowsky came to the Badgers with high expectations. Fellow freshmen that year included Jack Skille and Ben Street. All 3 played opening night v. SLU. Ben Street scored a momentum-changing goal , and Jack Skille scored the overtime game-winner. Skille and Street continued to play well, and Gorowsky seemed to be the odd man out. Given the Badgers' depth at F that season, it's not too much of a surprise that he was unable to earn a regular spot in the lineup. He played in only 18 games that season, and only 2 of those games were in the final 24 games of the season. In all but 2 of those games, he played on the 4th line. He finished with 0 G and 2 A for 2 pts.

Given the Badgers depth at forward and the results of the season, I have no inclination to argue with Eaves' lineup decisions. But that doesn't stop me from wondering what Gorowsky might have done if given playing time on the 3rd line as opposed to the 4th line, as I think perhaps his game is not best suited for the 4th line. Nor does it stop me from wondering what Gorowsky might have done if given more playing in time in the second half of the season after he had more of a chance to settle in as a freshman.

Needless to say, Gorowsky would have liked more playing time, but despite being frustrated he continued to work as hard as he could. Todd Milewski of The Cap Times had a nice article about Gorowsky's work ethic during his freshman year.

Sophomore year: Gorowsky entered the season disappointed about his freshman season and looking to make an impact his sophomore season. Milewski had a nice article about Gorowsky's mind-set coming into the season.

I remember watching the opening series v. Northern in GB, and I remember thinking that Gorowsky looked quite good. He looked like he was trying to prove he belonged in the lineup, and he looked like he was having fun. Playing on a line with Matt Ford and Mike Davies, he looked especially good on Friday night, finishing +3 with 3 assists and 3 SOG. (We all had a lot of fun that night, and I suppose that's when I became a Tom Gorowsky fan.) He scored his first goal as a Badger just 2 weeks later -- a power play goal v. Duluth.

Unfortunately, while being more productive than the previous year, Gorowsky didn't score as much as I (or he, I presume) would have liked. In 33 games, he recoreded 5 G and 7 A for 12 points. I'm a bit puzzled, as Gorowsky played in 33 games and was scratched for 8 games, but for some reason I had the mistaken impression that he sat for more than 8 games. I suppose it's because most of the scratches came during the second half of the season.

Gorowsky finished 10th on the team in scoring that year -- ahead of fellow forwards Andy Brandt, Blake Geoffrion, Ben Grotting, John Mitchell, Aaron Bendickson, Andy Bohmbach, and Zach Bearson. Of course, with the exception of Brandt, all of those players were freshman. And most of them can play on the 4th line, whereas it appears Gorowsky does not necessarily play well on the 4th line. My impression is that Gorowsky had a decent sophomore year but was not an impact player and perhaps did not fully take advantage of his opportunities.

Junior year: Gorowsky entered his junior year expecting to be able to earn regular ice time. Which is understandable, given that he was entering the year as the 4th returning scorer among forwards. However, the Badgers had some pretty good freshman entering the program, guys like Blake Geoffrion and John Mitchell stepped-up their games big time from the previous season, and guys like Grotting, Bendickson, and Dolan worked very hard and were very consistent in their play.

Before the season began, I had the opportunity to stop by a couple of the summer practices at Cap Ice. Gorowsky looked like he was having a pretty good time -- smiling a lot and scoring lots of goals. Was he smiling because he was scoring, or was he scoring because he was smiling? I'm tempted to believe the latter -- I like to think that he plays well when he's relaxed and confident and having a good time. And needless to say, I was quite excited about seeing how Gorowsky fared during the upcoming sesaons.

Starting out the season, Gorowsky actually got a decent amount of playing time. He played the first 6 games before being scratched for a few games, and he played in 11 of the 16 games before Showdown. So it seems he had the opportunity to earn ice time, and it appears that perhaps he did not take advantage of the opportunities, recording just 2 assists in those 11 games.

The Sat, Dec 1 game @ Mankato sticks out as the turning point where it became clear that Gorowsky was once again going to be the odd man out of the lineup. During the 3rd period, Eaves double-shifted Turris, and Gorowksy was the player who ended up on the bench. Not sure if Gorowsky got a shift at the beginning of the 3rd, but I do know that he did not play the final 15 minutes, as he stood in the exact same spot on the bench for those 15 minutes. Had to be frustrating for him, but to his credit he stood and watched the play throughout -- didn't see him sitting with his head down even once during that time.

Based on Eaves's comments following the game, it appears that Eaves was not comfortable with Gorowsky's ability to keep up in the fast-paced game. Gorowsky's skating and speed seem to be one of the main things holding him back, and while he worked on it quite a bit during the offseason, he still needs to make improvements.

Gorowsky played during the Badger Hockey Showdown, as a number of players were off at the World Junior Championships. He was the hero on Saturday, scoring 2 goals to salvage a 3rd place Showdown finish for the Badgers. It was Gorowsky's first 2-goal game, and I remember thinking that Gorowsky had finally taking advantage of his opportunity and showed that he deserved regular ice time. Unfortunately, Eaves comments in the former article indicate that perhaps he didn't see it that way -- his comments seem to suggest that he saw Gorowsky as a temporary fill in during the WJCs, regardless of how well Gorowsky played during that time, but perhaps I'm inferring too much.

I belive the following 2 games v. CC were also during WJCs, but Gorowsky was held off the scoresheet. Afterwards, Gorowsky played in only 2 of the remaining 20 games. I'm wondering if he would've gotten the opportunity to play in more games if he had more success in the Friday night Showdown game (in which the whole team played rotten) or the 2 CC games, but the point is moot given that he was held of the scoresheet in each of those 3 games.

Gorowsky finished the season with 2 G and 2 A for 4 points in 16 games, and as mentioned, most of those games were in the first half of the season.

So, where does that leave us? Let's look at the questions I posed earlier.

As a senior, would his presence on the ice provide stability and leadership? He doesn't have a ton of on-ice experience, but neither did Engel coming in to last year. It appears that Gorowsky has been fairly mature in handling adversity -- he worked hard his freshman and sophomore years despite his lack of playing time, and he tried to be a positive force on the team despite his frustrations. Becuase he was aware of his opportunity to play during the Showdown in his junior year, he worked during the Christmas break to be ready for the opportunity. Andy Bohmbach said "He never hangs his head. He's the first guy on the ice and the last guy off."

So while Gorowsky may not be the first name that comes to mind when thinking of the leaders on the team, he might just be a quiet leader who leads by example and who could be a good positive force on the team.

Of course, the team is older this year as compared to last year, and perhaps Gorowsky's leadership and presence as a senior is less crucial than Engel's presence as a senior last season.

Or would it push more deserving players off the ice? The Badgers have a ton of forwards this year. A TON. I count 17, meaning 5 forwards have to sit each night. And further meaning that Gorowsky has a lot of competition for ice time.

If given more playing time last year, would Gorowsky have been able to better step up his game? Given his performance in the Showdown consolation game, I'd like to answer "yes". That game shows that the potential is there, but there's no guarantee that he could play like that on a regular basis, and it's hard to expect a player to show that level of play afterwards when only playing sporadically.

If given the opportunity this year, will he take advantage of it? Again, I'd like to say "yes", but given the depth at forward, I'm afraid it will be a struggle for Gorowsky to get ice time to take advantage of, and I think it's hard for any player to play well consistently if he does not get consistent ice time.

So, what will this upcoming season hold for Tom Gorowsky. I guess we'll just have to wish Tom the best of luck and wait and see . . .