Thursday, July 17, 2008

Playing your Seniors

The season is a few short months away, but I thought it was as good a time as any to discuss this topic. Last season, Mike Eaves and the coaching staff made a concerted effort to put Josh Engel, a senior, in the lineup every night. That effort included converting Josh to forward to start the season. The other seniors on the team had regular roles and played every night included forward Matthew Ford, and defensemen Davis Drewiske and Kyle Klubertanz.

Last year's team featured a wealth of defensemen talent, or at least heading into the season it appeared that way. Klubertanz and Drewiske were there to lead the way as seniors and captains, and Jamie McBain was a sophomore coming off a strong freshman showing. First round picks Ryan McDonagh and Brendan Smith were in the fold along w/ Cody Goloubef who, while too young for the 2007 NHL Draft recently went early in the 2nd round to Columbus in this year's draft. In addition, Craig Johnson was available for the WJC and in case of injuries.

Looking at that list, aside from Craig Johnson, Josh Engel was the odd man out. Based on potential, prehaps the coaching staff found it hard to sit Smith or Goloubef early in the season. Also, the loss of Nigel Williams early in the 2006/2007 season for lack of playing time, might have weighed into their decisions.

During the 2007 half of the season, I thought Josh played pretty well at forward, notching a goal right out of the gate in Dayton, OH, and adding a two goal game later in the Fall after returning from an injury. Not to mention, he added some versitility on the penalty kill by allowing three defensemen on the ice, one in the guise of a forward.

At the same time that Josh filled a forward role, several young forwards were consistently healthy scrathes including Tom Gorowsky, Zach Bearson and Andy Bohmbach.

During the WJC, Jamie McBain left the team for 4 games to represent the U.S. and Craig Johnson stepped into that spot. As McB returned to the lineup, Brendan Smith went out w/ an injury and Craig Johnson continued as the 6th Dman, while Engel continued at forward.

In the 2008 half of the season, I thought Josh didn't play as well at forward, and when he was finally moved back to Dman in place of Craig Johnson, I thought Andy Bomhbach's addition to the lineup, and Engel's move to his natural position, were a boost to the team. After this point, Engel finished out the season on defense where I thought he played rather well.

Where is all this leading? Simple, what role will Tom Gorowsky have w/ the team during his fast approaching senior year? Last year the coaching staff was intent on playing Josh Engel, because they wanted his senior leadership on the ice. Engel's conversion to forward meant that other players would sit. If necessary will other forwards sit in 2008/2009 for no other reason so that Tom Gorowsky can bring additional leadership to the lineup?

Now I'm not taking anything away from Josh Engel (or Tom Gorowsky), I think Josh should have been in the lineup, but he should have been returned to D much earlier in the season than he was. Josh provided a stay at home type defenseman, on a team that had a lot of touted "offensive" defensemen. I think the team's defensive play improved when he was moved back to D.

To start the season, Josh Engel could have easily split time w/ Cody Goloubef and Brendan Smith at D, and as the season went on, he should have returned full time to defense as the team needed the "defensive" defenseman skill set that he provided. I would also argue that there were times when Drewiske and Klubertanz could have used a night off, but they weren't going to sit because of the captain's letters on their chest. While the coaching staff wasn't afraid to sit Podge Turnbull or Michael Davies for a lack of effort, the same was not applied for a few of the team's defensemen.

Unlike Josh Engel who played a ton during his junior year of 2006/2007, Tom Gorowsky's time was limited last season. At the same time, depth at forward this season will heavy. Blake Geoffrion, Ben Street, Michael Davies, Ratty Johnson, John Mitchell are locks to play every night. Sean Dolan, Ben Grotting and Aaron Bendickson should be as well after playing well this past season. The freshman (Derek Stepan, Matt Thurber, Jordy Murray and Chris Hickey) will all compete hard for spots, w/ all but Hickey likely being locks most nights. Podge Turnbull played a lot last season, and when given a chance the Andy "Bomber" Bohmbach impressed me in the 2nd half. After transferring, Tom Bardis will want to show off what he can do, and Zach Bearson is still working to get his chance to consistently break into the lineup. In between all that, senior Tom Gorowsky fits somewhere into that picture.

Tom wasn't a regular in the lineup last season, playing early in the season and again while players were gone for the WJC. At the end of the season when a spot opened at forward, Bohmbach filled that spot. Tom will have to fight his way into the lineup, unless his game accelerates to another level in the offseason, which would be great to see. Tom had some hype coming here including being Mr. Hockey in Minnesota and good production in the USHL.

Tom is only one of 3 scholarship seniors on the team next season, along w/ Street and Shane Connelly. Despite the large junior class of Grotting, Bohmbach, McBain, Mitchell, Bendickson, Bearson, Davies and Geoffrion, it could easily be argued that Tom's leadership will be needed on the ice as much as Josh Engel's was this past season.

So what is it going to be for the coaching staff? Will we see a lot of Tom Gorowsky this season instead of him sitting above Section 202? Prehaps Tom's play to begin the season will take the decision of playing your seniors out of the coaching staff's hands, and Tom will end his Badger career w/ a bang.