Oct 052010
 
Photo credit: Will Nickelson

Having looked at the goalies, let’s turn our eyes to the young men who help keep pucks away from them in the first place: the defensemen.

Photo credit: Will Nickelson

The Chargers are led by their gritty captain, Ryan Burkholder. As we noted in our rundown of the captains for 2010-11, Ryan has just two assists in three years in the blue and white. What “Burky” may lack in offensive production, he more than makes up for in defensive ability and character. Like Scott Kalinchuk before him, Ryan is a quiet leader of his team, taking players aside to reinforce the coaches’ instructions during practice. I watched the Chargers practice this morning, and one thing that struck me is that Ryan was totally locked in during any instruction from Coach Luongo. His attention didn’t waver a whit, and that focus is definitely shown by his play on the ice. Ryan is also a good student, with a GPA in excess of 3.0, which is no small feat at UAH.

Photo credit: Nick Franklin

Matt Baxter brings a wealth of experience to the ice, serving as one of the team’s alternate captains for this season, his final one in a Charger uniform. Known to his teammates and coaches as “Jim”, Baxter combines size, skating ability, and a strong left-handed slapshot to provide the Chargers with solid blueline play as well as sparking the offense. What I always notice about Jim is that he keeps working. Baxter will be leaned on for his leadership on and off the ice this season, as the Chargers graduated Dave Nicoletti, Brennan Barker, and Brandon Roshko from last year’s defensive corps. As previously noted, Baxter is an excellent student, with a 3.5+ GPA while majoring in psychology and sociology.

Photo credit: Will Nickelson

Tom Durnie has battled to get in the lineup his first two seasons, playing just 38 games in that span. “Durns” will be called upon to step up this season with half of the defensive corps being freshmen. The keys for Durnie are to play within himself and to utilize his reach effectively to disrupt the opposing offense’s flow down low. Tom has all the tools and needs to play consistently; I feel that he will make huge strides this season.

Photo credit: Geof Morris

Curtis deBruyn was a great addition to the Charger defensive corps in 2009-10, playing 32 games and scoring a goal and six assists. deBruyn plays within himself and does the smart thing, which you can see in the box score as he’s taken just 14 PIM in his college career. Despite playing for a 2009-10 team that had a -16 goal differential, deBruyn finished -2 for the season. Selected by his teammates as an alternate captain for this year, what I’ve noticed in watching practice for the last week is that deBruyn is a vocal leader on the ice.

Photo credit: Geof Morris

Lasse Uusivirta is the second Finnish player in as many seasons to come to play his college hockey in Huntsville. Uusivirta means “new stream”, and he promises to bring a scoring touch from the blueline. In 118 games for the Espoo Jr. Blues U20 team, Lasse was 36-41–77 and captained his team last season. Having watched him in practice, I expect Lasse to log plenty of minutes this season, including time on the power play. He seems to have a deft scoring touch from the outside, and I feel like he has a good feel for the game. There are always concerns about how a player will adjust to the speed of the college game, and freshmen will, of course, make freshman mistakes. My gut feeling, though, is that Lasse will be just as important to the team as deBruyn was last season. For the record, you pronounce it “Oo-see-VEER-tuh”—or at least that’s how I’ve heard it from teammates.

Photo credit: pointstreak.com

Mat Hagen is the smallest of the Chargers’ freshman defensemen, listed at 6’0″, 185. From what I’ve seen in practice, Hagen is a good skater with decent hands. He seems to be a bit slow at times to move the puck offensively across the blue line, which will certainly bite him in the college game, but he seems coachable and should learn quickly what he needs to do to be successful at this level. In 62 games played for the Kanata Stallions in 2009-10, Hagen scored three goals and 28 assists, which bodes well for him to be an offensive contributor for the Chargers going forward.

Photo credit: pointstreak.com

Nickolas Gatt comes to Huntsville from the Topeka Roadrunners of the North American Hockey League, where he scored two goals and 14 assists in 54 games. More importantly, Gatt finished +18 on the season, which indicates that he should be a solid addition for the Chargers defense. Listed at 6’3″, looks like he will fill out from his current 195-lb frame as his college career continues. Gatt has made strides in the week of practices I’ve watched, and I expect that he’ll be in the mix for a spot on the Chargers’ third pair.

Trevor Conrad is a big, bruising defenseman, 6’0″-215. He first caught my eye in practice by absolutely creaming Sebastian Geoffrion in the corner. Conrad looks to fill the role of the punishing defender, but he is working on his overall game in practice. As with Hagen and Gatt, Conrad promises to be in the mix defensively this season. All three will get on the ice based on their work in practice, and I’ve seen all of them give a good effort. Oh, and for the hockey fight fans amongst you, Conrad is the man in black …

[Ed.: I had Mat Hagen’s height wrong, and also had his incorrect junior team listed for 2009-10. I regret the error. –GFM]

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