Let’s face it, 2001-2002 has not been the year for the Waterloo Black Hawks. Has the season been a total disappointment? No. Could the team have done better? Maybe if they had made the moves they did in January earlier in the season. But nonetheless the trades the Black Hawks made were good moves. Early in the season Waterloo dumped two of last years top players in Ryan Langenbrunner and Dan Krmpotich due to lack of production. In return the Black Hawks got Patrick Knutson from Lincoln and Nate Hansen from Rochester. Waterloo then quickly turned around and dumped Hansen to Des Moines along with another brief addition, Keith Boyer in return for Ross Carlson and Andy Nelson. That trade has turned the season around for Waterloo. No, they won’t make the playoffs but they have regained the respect of the league and the hope of the fans that this team once again has a future.
Not all the moves turned out to be good. Both trades with the Lincoln Stars turned sour. Each for different reasons. Patrick Knutson ended up leaving the team due to lack of playing time. It was obvious he wasn’t happy with the situation in Waterloo and decided to go elsewhere. Waterloo traded a high draft pick to Lincoln in return for the services of Beau Fritz. While Fritz was here he was sporadic but decent in replacing Josh Siembida. Perhaps one of the best goalies ever to play in the USHL on one of the worst teams. Fritz left after 11 games due to concern that he may lose years of NCAA eligibility if he played past his 21st birthday.
But back to Carlson and Nelson and their return to success in the USHL. Carlson was a runner up to Mr. Hockey in Minnesota just a couple years ago and was toiling in Des Moines without much playing time. It was no secret he wasn’t giving what the Buccaneers wanted. Nor was Nelson. It was time for a change. It has turned out to be fantastic for Waterloo and for Carlson the goal scorer and Nelson the slasher. Ross has 7 goals and 3 assists in 12 games and Nelson has 4 goals and 5 assists in only 8 games for the Hawks. Their mere presence on the ice and bench has increased the productivity and attitude of the entire team.
As it stands only 2 players from last seasons team are on the bench for the Hawks. Anyone who knows USHL hockey knows this is a veteran league. If you have a large number of rookies and youngsters in your lineup, you’re going to get eaten alive. But all is looking up in Waterloo. The Hawks stand to lose only four players from this season’s roster, based on their eligibility. Certainly there will be some defectors or players who move on to the College ranks. Only backup goalie Steve Witkowski, Greg Poupard and Zac Headrick will not return next season due to eligibility. Nick Toney’s is currently the only player on the roster with a scholarship already locked up for next year.
Waterloo faces the advantage of returning several players from this season’s team. All with a year of USHL experience under their belts. Players like Jim Jensen, Rob Lehtinen, Marco Trevino and Nathan Fornataro have a chance for a sophomore season. Even Carlson and Nelson have the opportunity to return to make a run at the post season. Another key is a returning USHL veteran in net. Jeff Jakatis, another midseason acquisition, who has played well since Fritz left the team, will more than likely return for another season as well. The rest of the season is not lost as Waterloo will play a hand who finishes where in the playoff seedings and they relish the chance of being a spoiler. The Black Hawks are not mathematically out of the playoffs but anything less than running the table will spell doom for Waterloo. But the hope is the experience the team is getting this year will come in handy next season.
Waterloo certainly plays the role of the lovable losers in the league managing only three winning seasons in their 21 year Junior Hockey history. Here’s hope Waterloo builds on what it has and that they make more of the right moves this offseason to put a team on the ice who next season could be dangerous. With the right moves and the retention of the right players, it could actually happen.