Goaltending: Returning for the Hawks this season between the pipes is Adam Hanna. Adam was rated as the top High School goalie in the state of Minnesota 2 years ago. He played a limited role last season behind Darren Gastrock but this season the spotlight is on him. Adam’s cool, calm and collected approach to goaltending will serve him well this season. Last season Adam compiled a 5-5-2 record with a 3.46 GAA and .896 saves percentage. Adam brings the Hawks some stability in net. His lightning fast glove and quick reactions will make him hard to beat as teams found out last year. Look for Mr. Hanna to be at the top of the list of goaltenders you don’t want to face. Newcomers Dave Rogalski from the Vernon Vipers and Kyle Nixon of the Texas Tornados will be fighting for the backup spot. Both have played admirably in preseason play.
Forwards: At the forward position Waterloo is very well off. Several USHL tested veterans will be back. Three players in specific are returning for their third and final seasons. Brian Canady (33 pts), Luke Fulghum (47 pts) and John Grubb (36 pts) all plan on making their final season in the USHL one to remember. Also returning will be Craig Falite (16 pts), Billy Crumm (16 pts) and Ryan Markham (9 pts). All should make a major impact. New additions this year are: Cole Baron, Ryan Langenbrunner, Ryan Connelly, Rob Lehtinen, Dan Krmpotich, Rob Hammell and Jeff McFarland. None of these newcomers have USHL experience but have already proved in preseason play that they are capable of producing immediately. One other key acquisition is Jordan Legace who played for the Erie Otters in the OHL last season. It’s important to have Junior Hockey experience and at the forward position the Hawks have a ton of it. With Fulghum’s cannon slap shot, Canady’s proven ability, Grubb’s uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time and Crumm’s leadership, Waterloo should have no problems scoring this season. If this group of forwards gels, they could very well lead the league in team scoring.
Defense: Defense was a major problem at times for Waterloo last season and it appears that they have gone out and gotten the right personnel to solve their woes. Only 2 players return with USHL experience in that of Andrew Alberts and Justin Kahle who played for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders last season. Those two will need to play the role of teacher and leader for the incoming players. The rest of the defense for Waterloo is: Brandon Cunico, Steve Czech, Greg Galvin, Greg Poupard and Lubos Velebny. Trevor Wolfe joins the Hawks from the Cleveland Barons of the NAHL. Wolfe will be a Bull for the Hawks. Size is definitely not an issue this season for the defensive corps. Only 1 player is less than six feet tall and almost all of them are over 200 pounds. Many, including the aforementioned Wolfe are very physical. As any USHL fan knows, having a strong physical presence is very valuable. If the defense can shore up the problems it had last season of leaving the goaltender to fend for himself and if they can put some more umph into their checks that will make the difference between a team who is average and middle of the pack or a team who can fight for a division championship and a high playoff seeding.
Prediction: From my standpoint I think the Black Hawks can finish as high as fifth in the league. If that happens it will be a major step for a team who is used to being one of the league’s doormats. Anything above last y ears seventh place finish will be considered a major improvement. One thing the Hawks desperately need to do is win a playoff series. If these things happen the cycle will have begun to turn Waterloo around from it’s sometimes ugly past. The keys for the Hawks to make these steps will be as follows. (1) Adam Hanna must step his game up a notch as we all know he can do, (2) The forwards must be able to gel and work together to become a cohesive unit instead of trying to be a one man highlight reel, (3) The defense must stand up to any and all comers without backing down to anyone and finally (4) The fresh blood brought in through acquisitions and recruiting must be able to withstand the sometimes brutal USHL play and be able to produce results right away.