It’s hard to say what sticks out most, statistically, about Shawn McNeely’s first four games in an Alaska Avalanche uniform.
The Brooklyn Park, Minn., native and NAHL veteran collected five points (a goal and four assists) during Alaska’s four games in the NAHL Showcase Tournament last month, and those five points ranked him first in scoring among defensemen in the NAHL after the first week of the season.
But he also posted a plus-5 rating during those four games. And considering Alaska’s woeful history with that stat, it’s a number the Avalanche are excited about.
“It’s the combination really,” Alaska head coach Dave Boitz said. “He’s a smart player, he’ll get a lot of assists. But he’s outstanding defensively and that’s really the most important part.”
McNeely was recognized for his play at both ends of the ice earning the first NAHL West Division Player of the Week award of the 2008-09 season.
Alaska struggled on the defensive end of the rink last season, yielding league highs in both shots and goals. The Avs’ play on defense was a constant source of frustration that produced absolutely horrific numbers on the plus-minus scale, a statistic that compares the goals scored with the goals against when a particular player is on the. Alaska didn’t have a player with a positive plus-minus rating, and the Avs’ regulars hovered in double-digits - on the minus end.
With that in mind, a focus for Alaska during the offseason was the need for veteran defense-minded defensemen.
That’s where McNeely came in.
McNeely, who skated for the now defunct Fargo-Moorhead Jets last year, was initially recruited to play for North Iowa when Boitz was still the Outlaws’ bench boss. But after making the move to Alaska, Boitz found a way to bring McNeely with him.
“He’s a very cerebral hockey player,” said Boitz, who has followed the player’s career since McNeely was a young athlete in Minnesota. “He understands where to be and why to be there. His knock was always his foot speed, but that’s not an issue any more at all.”
McNeely has combined with defenseman Beau Braun - a former North Iowa skater who Boitz also hand-picked to come to Alaska - to put together one of the more formidable defensive pairings the Avs have had during their stay in Wasilla.
“There’s no question they’re really good defensemen,” Boitz said. “They’re really great kids.”
Add Anchorage native Braden Kinnebrew - a player Alaska recently acquired in a trade with the St. Albert Steel of the Alberta Junior League - and Anchorage native and second-year Avalanche skater Jason Cohen, and the Avs now present a solid veteran nucleus on their back line.
“We had to get guys who’ve played back there,” Boitz said.