When the curtain went up on the 2002-2003 USHL season just over a month ago, things seemed extremely bright for the Waterloo Black Hawks. Why wouldn’t there be high hopes with a team returning 12 players from last season’s squad and adding another USHL vet on defense? New coach, new system and new attitude right? Well, so far the thought has been great however, the results, while encouraging show no improvement in the overall standings from last season through 10 games. The Black Hawks started last season 3-7 and the 2002-2003 crew has started 3-6-1. However, that is truly where the similarities stop.
The Black Hawks have entered this season with a new intensity on the ice. A level of aggression and potential that hasn’t seen Young Arena in many years. Young stars such as Jim Jensen, Andy Nelson, Rob Lehtinen, Joe Pavelski and Nathan Fornataro bring smiles to the faces of Black Hawks fans. Nelson has been the leader and sparkplug although Trevor Stewart wears the Captain’s C. Nelson leads the team in scoring with 3 goals and 6 assists while Lehtinen, a defenseman who has the skills of a solid left wing, has 4 goals and 4 assists. These two lead a solid core of forwards for this team. Ross Carlson, the Black Hawks leading scorer last year, has been out with injuries and has only played in 5 of the first 10 games. This without a doubt has been an unfortunate situation for Waterloo as they have been in almost every game played yet this season. Who knows what the results would be had Carlson been healthy to start the year.
Jensen has emerged as the Black Hawks top prospect overall as his puck handling skills have vastly improved and he lights his opponents up on a regular basis and is not afraid to take a hit or for that matter, a slapshot to help the team out. Jon Saunders who came to Waterloo from the defunct Tulsa Crude has not been the impact as hoped, at least not early on but Igor Bobcek acquired from Green Bay prior to the season has been a formidable replacement. Fornataro has been solid as has the rest of the defenseman for Waterloo.
Goaltending has not been a problem either, as Jeff Jakaitis’s record indicates. Although he is 1-3-1 on the year, he has a save percentage of .931 and GAA of 2.37, which put him towards the top of the league in that category. Jordan Parise has been strong in net but Jakaitis so far has proven he is the top man in net.
This brings us back to the original problem, scoring. Although the Hawks offense is much improved over last season in every facet of the game, the team still is having a hard time getting the puck into the back of the net. Defensively the Black Hawks are about as solid and skilled as there is in this league and the goaltending is top notch as well. The confusing and concerning issue so far is the Hawks offense. Certainly when it cranks into high gear, they may not be rivaled by any other group in the league but they must take off in order to fly.
The Hawks have had a rough schedule to start as they have played seven of their first 10 games on the road, twice in powerhouse Sioux Falls and twice against the defending Clark Cup champion Sioux City Musketeers where they, coincidentally, won 4-0 recently. This shows the progress and ability of this team. As the season wears on and the players continue to play together and behind the solid coaching of P.K. O’Handley, Waterloo still intends to be a force and they will not settle for anything less than a playoff berth. The Waterloo faithful can sense they are on the verge of something great. All the Hawks O needs to do is keep knocking and soon enough the wall will cave in.