To attack or not to attack, that is the question for Brown Bears defensemen.
Whether ‘tis nobler on the ice to suffer the slings and arrows of a stay-at-home defensemen, or to take arms against a sea of troubles in the opponents’ zone, and by opposing score a goal.
Second-year Brown Bears defenseman Judd Loewenstein has been making increasing forays into the opponents’ zone of late, and it has been paying off.
Heading into a three-game series with the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild, which starts with a 7 p.m. puck drop tonight at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, Loewenstein has three points in his last five games and five points in his last 13.
Compare that to two points in his first 19 games this year, and five points in 43 games last season.
“I think he’s playing with a lot more confidence,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “He’s jumping in the play at the right times and he has been making some good plays off the rush.”
A defenseman’s first job is keeping the puck out of his own net. The better a defenseman gets at defense, the more the defenseman can think about offense.
“It’s not that I’ve changed my game, it’s that I’ve been working harder to get better every day,” said Loewenstein, a 5-10, 185-pounder from Chicago. “That it is showing is pretty cool.”
A good example is Loewenstein’s first goal of the year, coming Dec. 28 in a 3-0 win against the Minnesota Wilderness.
He scored by getting the puck and walking it toward the middle of the ice, where he released a shot from the point.
It’s a skill Loewenstein said the defensemen work on constantly, but it’s also a skill a defenseman can pull off game after game and never be rewarded with a point.
“Very few defensemen put up humongous numbers,” said Loewenstein, whose host parents are Eric Trevino and Natalie Villegas. “They are playing defense trying to keep the puck out of the net.
“The points sometimes come in spurts, but even when you are in a drought, you have to keep staying positive. Keep picking your head up and hope good things happen on the scoresheet.”
Beauparlant said continuing to do the right things even when they are not rewarded with points, like putting the puck on net, is important.
“There’s never the perfect opportunity to put the puck on net,” the coach said. “There’s the old Wayne Gretzky saying that you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.
“Judd has really taken that to heart. When he gets an opportunity, he’s shooting, and not necessarily on net. Sometimes just shooting around the net causes the defense to shift and causes chaos in the crease, and that’s when goals are scored.”
In addition to the skill of walking the puck to the middle of the ice to release a shot, a great chance for points for a defenseman come when joining a rush.
But joining the rush at the wrong time can lead to an even better rush for the opponent.
“It can, but it’s the style of play we want to play and the guys are on board with that and have bought into it,” Beauparlant said. “They understand they can’t forget their defensive responsibilities, but they also know when the appropriate time is to jump in the rush and create more offense.”
Loewenstein, the son of Michael Loewenstein of Florida and Amy McGowan of Chicago, said knowing when to jump in the rush is all about experience.
“Your first year, you play more of a defensive role because you want to get your confidence up,” Loewenstein said.
Loewenstein said he was confident jumping in the rush at the end of last season, but then a coaching change and new system had him more conservative in the first part of this season.
“Now I know the coaching staff really well and I feel more comfortable trying to create more offense,” Loewenstein said.
The trend has been similar for second-year Bears defensemen Jake Bushey, who has 15 points in 31 games this year after tallying 17 points in 54 games last year.
Third-year defenseman Jake Davidson has nine points this year after tallying 27 points last season, but has points in his last three games. Third-year defenseman Vince Stefan has 10 points this season after getting 26 last season, but has points in two of his last three games.
“We’ve been working on it as a group,” Beauparlant said. “Other defensemen than Judd have taken it upon themselves to start producing.
“We wanted more of a five-man attack.”
The trick now is to get the rookie defensemen more comfortable in the attack. Tyler Andrews leads that group with six points, while Gustav Berglund has four, and Christian Luiten and Austin Chavez have three apiece.
Loewenstein said the veterans do a good job teaching the rookies when to jump in the rush.
“We have a really skilled D corps,” Loewenstein said. “All of them could have a big breakout at any time.”
Getting points from defensemen will be key as the Bears battle to make the playoffs.
The second through sixth teams are within nine points of each other in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division as the Wild come to town. Kenai River holds the final playoff spot, sitting in fourth with 37 points, but Wenatchee has 35 and the Minnesota Magicians have 34.
“The last time we played Wenatchee, we swept them in their own building, so when they come up they will want to get us back,” Loewenstein said. “We’re excited to play in front of our fans and in our building on our rink.
“We are confident in the way we are playing right now.”
Notes: Beauparlant said he thinks rookie forward Tommy Dierl is close to breaking the ice. Dierl has three assists but no goals this season. “He had a really solid road trip, but he hasn’t been rewarded for the effort,” the coach said. ... Luiten will be out this weekend after suffering a concussion on the road trip. ... Former Brown Bears goalie Gustaf Johansson has gone 8-4 for the Wild this season. Johansson was 12-10 for Kenai River last season before hurting his knee. He was left unprotected and drafted by the Wild. ... Friday is Alyeska Tire night at the rink, and the featured player is Matt Rudin. Saturday is Stanley Auto Group night, and Berglund will be featured.