Off to an erratic 5-6 start, there’s nothing Alaska Avalanche head coach Brian Huebel wanted more than for his team to establish some sense of consistency.
That wish was granted last weekend, as the Avs skated to a three-game sweep over the Dawson Creek Rage helping lift Alaska into second-place in the West Division standings.
“We were able to put together a full weekend, which is something we’ve been preaching we have to be able to do (to be successful), and our guys did that,” said Huebel.
Forwards Jacob Barber (a hat trick in Saturday’s 4-1 victory and an assist) and Brandon Brossoit (two goals, two assists), both 18-year-old, stole the show offensively against the Rage, while goaltender Landon Peterson picked up two wins.
“I think we’ve begun to grasp some of the concepts we’ve been working on and talking to the guys about,” said Huebel. “Turning around a 2-4 start to now being 8-6 is a credit to the guys and them coming together.”
In addition to Barber, the team’s leading scorer with 13 points, and Brossoit, who has nine points in only eight games, Huebel has been impressed with the early-season promise of forwards Seth Johnson, Andy Pearson, Blake Huppert and Derek Whitehill, all of whom have been effective while playing in all situations.
“And with the way they can compete and get up and down the ice, any one of them has the ability to breakout on the statsheet,” said the coach.
On the defensive end, Jake Williams, Chase Van Allen, Tyler Briola, Alec Doig and Joe Schmitz have solidified a strong veteran presence with newcomers Buzz Tryggeseth and Casey Nelson, both 1992-borns, showing plenty of potential.
“They’ve played very nicely for first-year guys,” said Huebel. “We have high expectations for those two in the future.”
First-year forwards Wehebe Darge, an Australian, and Evan Hesse, the team’s youngest player at 17 years old, are also continuing to make strides.
“Wehebe is beginning to get more accustomed to the game here and is beginning to thrive,” said Huebel. “And Evan has played in every game for us and seems to be getting better and better, which is very exciting for him and us.”
The Avalanche also has a bona fide No. 1 netminder in Peterson. After his performance against the Rage, the second-year keeper now holds a 7-5 record to compliment a 2.34 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage.
“I really can't say enough good things about him,” Huebel said of the 19-year-old from Wisconsin. “He competes so hard in practice and games and with him comes a tremendous amount of confidence that spreads throughout the entire team.”
Peterson is also proving to be a positive mentor for backup Blake Mendenhall, 18, making for a reliable tandem in the Avs’ goal.
“He’s been a great example for Blake to learn from, and has already begun doing that,” said Huebel. “Blake is getting better and better and getting more accustomed to the pace of the NAHL.”
Huebel has experienced a period of adjustment himself. Now in his first year as the Avs’ head coach after serving as an assistant last season, he credits team president Mark Lee, general manager Dave Boitz and assistant coach Sean Fish - all of whom were part of the program last year - for helping make for a seamless transition.
“All in all, I don't really know how it could have gone better up to this point,” said Huebel. “We’re all are excited about the future of the organization and this team.”
In particular, the players’ high level of character and talent.
“With the combination of those two, we really have high expectations moving forward,” said Huebel. “I believe that, with the makeup of this team, we’re able to overcome a lot of things that might come across our plate and help each other out in order to achieve our team and personal goals.”