The Waterloo Black Hawks took the USHL by storm last season winning the Eastern Division title and making it to the Clark Cup semifinals in head coach P.K. O’Handley’s first season. This year, they look to make the next step.
The cupboard is certainly full offensively for the Hawks, returning last season’s USHL Rookie of the Year Joe Pavelski. Pavelski led the league in goals scored last season and finished third overall in scoring. The Wisconsin recruit and San Jose Sharks draftee expects bigger things this season for himself and for the team. His linemates, Joel Hansen and Mike Dagenais both return for their third season in the league. Together, the three will be the highest scoring trio returning this season.
Mike Radja and Matt Fornataro, both committed to New Hampshire after this season, will also be returing and look to build off the success they experienced last season. “We’re excited about our guys up front returning and our new guys, we got some pretty good skilled players with a bit of grit” said the Black Hawks coach.
Two of the newcomers on offense expected to make an impact are Peter MacArthur out of Clifton Park, New York and Northwood Prep and David Meckler who comes to Waterloo from the NAHL’s Chicago Freeze. “You look at Peter MacArthur, he’s got some great offensive ability, we’re look for big things from him,” O’Handley said. “A guy that plays with great tenacity is David Mecker,” the coach added. “He’s a guy that’s just 16 years old. He’s really caught my eye the way he plays. We’re looking for some good things from him as we go.”
Jake Schwan, Dan Sturges, Garrett Regan and Derek Whitmore also return on offense. Said O’Handley, “With the players that are in place, we’re looking to generate alot of offense. I think it’s so early but character will take us a long way and that’s what I think we have the most of. I think it starts there, more so than even talented players.”
Defensively is where there may be some early season leaks for Waterloo. Youngster Dustin Molle is the only returning defenseman for the Black Hawks, but the coach is excited about some of the newcomers to the blueline for Waterloo. “As a coaching staff, we’re very excited about our defensive players, the biggest thing is patience. Being around this league, you’ve got to have some time to get your feet wet. We’re going to make some mistakes back there but if you give them time, in late October, early November I think our defense is going to be better than a year ago.”
Last season the Black Hawks were at the top of the league in goals against and if this defensive group gels, could improve on that figure. Casey Russell joins the team after playing for the Des Moines Buccaneers last season. Jon Paul Testwuide and Tim Filangieri look to bring some fire to the defensive charge. “Jon Paul is a big guy, a physical guy. He has the ability to play the game,” O’Handley said. John Vadnais played in the USA National Development program last season and his skill should also make an impact. Andrew Thomas, Josh Duncan and Iowa native Michael Annett also will fight for playing time on defense.
Bruins draftee Kevin Regan will be tested early replacing last season’s sparkling duo in net of Jordan Parise and Jeff Jakaitis both of whom moved on to Division I programs this season. Regan will be a high school senior and will be looked to step up to the next level of hockey in his career. “I think it’s similar to our defense (goaltending), we have some young kids with very little experience at this level. This league is so good, again we could have some times where maybe we don’t have our best outing as a goaltending group and we’re just going to have to battle through that. Look at Kevin in particular, he’s going to be good, but he needs some time to adjust,” O’Handley said.
Casey Mapes who saw some ice time last year for the Tri-City Storm, figures to be in the mix in between the pipes as does Aaron Johnson, a player who’s been around the league for a couple of years but has seen no regular season USHL action.
“Our goals are still high,” the coach said. “I don’t think we ever touched the ice without the goal of winning every game. I think our goals haven’t changed. We want to win a championship, but a lot of things factor into that, but we are going to go after it.”
Go after it will be an understatement. O’Handley’s teams traditionally are well disciplined, in good condition and very efficient on the ice. This year will certainly not change. “I like our team,” O’Handley continued. “The average age of our team is 17.9 years old. Our leaders, our core veterans, a guy like Joe Pavelski, our captain, is going to have to do a lot of work with these guys but it’s not how you start but how you finish. That’s the only way you can look at it.”
That philosophy was proven last year as the Black Hawks stumbled out of the gate before hitting their stride with a 12-game winning streak putting them at the top of the division to stay for the rest of the year. This year’s team should do no less than a division title and look to make the step to the conference finals with their eyes on the prize.
“I think our playoff experience will keep our older guys hungry, but I don’t know if that playoff experience will be important until that time. We had success last year because we were a team. I think this team could be very similar.” With that kind of thought process, fans in the Cedar Valley are smelling fear in their USHL foes and anticipating the sound of championship bells ringing come next spring.