Sunday, July 19, 2015

Defenseman Matthew Dawson Commits to UNH for This Fall

Incoming UNH Freshman
Matt Dawson

18-year-old Matthew Dawson (DOB: 8/13/1996), a left-shot defenseman from Tsawwassen, British Columbia (outside of Vancouver) has committed to play for UNH in the 2015-16 season. Last season, the 5'10", 160 lbs. Dawson was the second-highest scorer among the Green Bay Gambler defensemen with 5 goals, including one game-winner, and 8 assists. Green Bay won only 18 games and had the second fewest points in the United States Hockey league.

Dawson played youth hockey with the South Delta Minor Hockey Association and Junior B hockey with the Delta Ice Hawks (same as Chicago Blackhawk defenseman Brent Seabrook). As a 16-year-old rookie with the Ice Hawks in the 2012-13 season, Dawson played against 20-year-olds and performed well enough to be called up for five regular-season games by the Surrey Eagles of the British Columbia Hockey League. Ice Hawks head coach Dave McLellan described Dawson's strengths:
"He moves up the ice really well and is a good fit for our system too. We need guys who can play a possession type game and can break trapping teams with speed."
At the end of the regular season, Dawson joined the Surrey Eagles for their successful run through the playoffs. He played in three playoff games as the Eagles won the 2013 BCHL Championship. In the 2013 Western Canada Cup, which pits the champions of the three western province Junior A leagues against each other, the Surrey Eagles won and Dawson played in all 5 games. In the ultimate championship tournament - the Royal Bank Cup - Dawson and the Eagles advanced to the semifinal round but lost in overtime. Shortly after the RBC, Dawson committed to play for Surrey in the 2013-14 season. In the announcement, Eagles' Head Coach and General Manager Matt Erhart said:
"With the departure of some of our key blue liners from last season, we're excited to have Matthew join our club as a young puck moving defenceman. Matthew performed beyond his years during our run to the RBC Cup, and we're looking forward to him being a part of our team for the 2013-2014 season."
In his rookie season in the BCHL, Matt Dawson lead the defensemen on the Surrey Eagles in the regular season with 6 goals, including 4 power play goals, and 28 assists. Among all BCHL defensemen, he tied for 10th in scoring and tied for 7th in assists. Surrey lost in the opening round of the 2013-14 BCHL playoffs. In 6 playoff games, Dawson scored 2 power play goals and added 2 assists. Dan Sallows, head scout for the Merritt Centennials that season, compiled this highlight video of Matt Dawson's play in the 2013-14 season:

I asked Dan Sallows, who is now the British Columbia interior regional scout for the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League, for his evaluation of Matt Dawson:
"Matt has a good quick first step, is excellent at walking the blueline and quarterbacking the PP, isn't overly big but utilizes his IQ, active stick and good body positioning when defending, has decent shot, reads the play well, rarely panics, good at moving the puck and transitioning up the ice, and generally makes smart decisions."
I had an opportunity to interview Matt, via email, about his background and commitment to UNH:

Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): Congratulations on your commitment to play for the University of New Hampshire. What are the main reasons you chose UNH?
Matt Dawson: The main reasons for my choice of the University of New Hampshire were the amazing campus and facilities - as well as the coaching staff.

Mike Lowry: What other college programs were you considering?
Matt Dawson: I was recruited by other programs but never got into a serious talk about attending. I have always planned on attending a U.S college for hockey. It's a big part of your life and you want it to be the right fit and I think I've found that with UNH.

Lowry: Will you be enrolling as a freshman at UNH this fall?
Dawson: Yes, I'll be enrolling this fall.

Lowry: Late in the 2012-13 season, when you were 16 years old, you were called up to play for the Surrey Eagles in the British Columbia Hockey League. You got to play in all of the games as Surrey won the Western Canada Cup and advanced to the semifinals of the Royal Bank Cup. How did you respond to the pressure of playing in the most prestigious tournaments in Canadian Junior A Hockey at such a young age?
Dawson: As you mentioned, I was called up at the end of the season to play in the playoffs. It was a big step in my junior hockey career but the veteran players on the team made the adjustment much easier for me. The coaching staff of Matt Erhart and Peter Schaefer also were a huge help in making the adjustment and playing me in the right positions.

Lowry: In the 2013-14 season, you were the leading scorer among the Surrey Eagles defensemen with 6 goals and 28 assists. Among all BCHL defensemen, you were tied for 10th in scoring and tied for 7th in assists. At this stage in your hockey development, what are the strengths of your game? What areas are you trying to improve?
Dawson: My strengths are my hockey vision and my ability to make the first pass out of my zone. The areas I am trying to improve on are my strength and ability to get in front of pucks in my zone.

Lowry: The year before coming to UNH, defenseman Dylan Chanter moved from the BCHL to the USHL. Last year, you made a similar move from the BCHL to the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. What was that transition like and did you notice any differences between the leagues?
Dawson: The transition was smooth. Green Bay is a fantastic organization that helped develop my game. The leagues are very similar, the only difference I would notice would be the USHL has a little more depth in every team.

Lowry: You scored 5 goals and 8 assists in 57 games for the Gamblers last season. Which defensive pairing did you play on and did you play on the Gamblers' special teams?
Dawson: I played most of the year with Grant Frederic (a Miami University commit), which I enjoyed a lot. I did play on the power play throughout the year.

Lowry: Where did you graduate from high school? What major do you plan to pursue at UNH?
Dawson: I graduated from South Delta Secondary in Tsawwassen, BC Canada. I plan to pursue a major in Kinesiology. I'm extremely excited to start a new chapter at UNH and look forward to everything that the next few years have to hold.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Mike Souza Named UNH Associate Head Coach

UNH Associate Head Coach
Mike Souza

It's official - UNH head coach Dick Umile has announced the hiring of former UNH star and captain Mike Souza as the new Associate Head Coach. The 37-year-old Souza (DOB: 1/28/1978) was Coach Umile's top choice to fill the vacancy created when Scott Borek left UNH to join Nate Leaman at Providence College as their Associate Head Coach. The hiring of Mike Souza has been in the works since early June.

Souza coached for the last two seasons at the University of Connecticut. He was initially hired as an assistant coach by UConn Head Coach Mike Cavanaugh and was promoted to UConn Associate Head Coach two months ago. Last week, Coach Cavanaugh told the Hartford Courant that he believes Sousa will become the UNH head coach when Umile retires:
"He's going to his alma mater and he's going to work for a coach I have the utmost respect for. Dick Umile, when you look at not only his success as a hockey coach, but how he mentors his players, he's a coach I can honestly say truly cares about every kid who comes through his program. Mike couldn't have a better mentor over the next couple of years before he takes over as head coach. It's a wonderful opportunity and I'm really happy for him. It will be a seemless transition when Dick decides to retire. I told Dick I would support it if they were going to move him to head coach. Dick said, 'That's our plan.' I was very happy. I have a great relationship with Dick. He's an upfront, honest guy. I know he cares about Mike like a son."
In today's announcement, Coach Umile did not address his retirement or the possibility of Coach Souza replacing him as head coach.

The relationship between Dick Umile and Mike Souza dates back to the mid-1990's when Umile recruited him to play at UNH. At the time, Souza was a star hockey player at Wakefield (MA) High School. In the late 1960's, Umile had been a high school hockey and football star in the neighboring town of Melrose, MA. Souza graduated from Wakefield High in 1996. He scored 97 goals and 107 assists in three seasons and was inducted into the Wakefield Warriors' Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009.

In the story of UNH's 40-year quest to win the NCAA Division I Ice Hockey National Championship, the most compelling chapter involves Coach Umile and his star player Mike Souza. On April 3, 1999, Souza drew the UNH Men's hockey program as close to the National Championship as it has ever been. Umile was in his ninth season as head coach and his first line of Mike Souza (left wing), Jason Krog (center), and Darren Haydar (right wing) was the top scoring line in the country with a combined total of 86 goals. Entering the third period of the 1999 championship game in Anaheim, California, the University of Maine lead UNH 2-1. Just over three minutes into the final period of regulation, Haydar (#20) intercepted a clearing effort in the corner to the right of Maine goalie Alfie Michaud and back-handed a pass behind the net to Hobey Baker winner Jason Krog (#28). Krog one-timed his 51st assist of the season to a wide-open Mike Souza in the low slot. Souza banged the puck over Michaud's right pad for the game-tying goal.

For the remaining 16 minutes and 30 seconds of regulation and more than 10 minutes into overtime, UNH sought the elusive game-winning goal which would have earned them the first National Championship. But it wasn't to be. Marcus Gustafsson beat All-American goalie Ty Conklin at the 10:50 mark of overtime. For the last 16 years, diehard UNH fans have been left to wonder what might have been.

Mike Souza had also scored 2 goals in UNH's 1999 semifinal win over Michigan State. He lead all scorers in the Frozen Four games with 6 points. Souza, along with Jason Krog and Jayme Filipowicz, were named to the 1999 All-Tournament Team.

In his four-year career at UNH, Mike Souza played in 156 games and scored 66 goals and 90 assists. In his sophomore season, he tallied 25 points for the 1997-98 team that advanced to the Frozen Four. Souza was the Wildcats' captain in his senior year and was named a Hockey East Second Team All-Star.

Souza's Professional Playing Career

Soon after Mike Souza finished his freshman season at UNH, he was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 3rd Round of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. Souza was the 67th overall selection - the same as Warren Foegele in the 2014 NHL Draft. After graduation, Souza played left wing for the Norfolk Admirals, the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate, for two years. In his third AHL season, he was traded to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Over that span, Souza averaged 14 goals and 15 assists per season.

After two more seasons of splitting time with AHL and ECHL teams, Souza went to Germany and Switzerland to play professionally in the 2005-06 season. He then played five seasons in Italy-A, the top professional league in Italy. He lead SG Cortina in scoring during their 2006-07 Championship season. Souza also played for the Italian National Team in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships from 2008-2011. The highlight was 2010 when Souza lead Team Italy in scoring (1g, 4a) as they competed in the Elite Division of the IIHF Championship. Former UNH star Stevie Moses and Team USA recently won the bronze medal in the 2015 edition of this prestigious tournament.

Souza's Coaching Experience

The backstory of Mike Souza's transition from playing to coaching, described by Dan Guttenplan in the New England Hockey Journal, sheds more light on his 20-year relationship with UNH Head Coach Dick Umile. By the end of the 2010-11 season in Italy, Souza realized his playing career was coming to a close and, with a wife and two young daughters, he needed to make a career decision. He sought advice from Coach Umile:
"He was pretty frank with me about the ups and downs (of coaching). Coming from playing I realized I'd have to grind it out for a program in a transition phase. (Umile) was one of the most influential people in my life, and I wanted to be like him. Here's a guy year after year who has a tremendous amount of pressure on him, and he has a stoic nature to him. He doesn't let the kids know what's going on behind the scenes."
Coach Umile referred Souza to Brown University Assistant Coach Mark White, a former teammate and roommate of Mike's at UNH. White, in turn, recommended Souza to Head Coach Brendan Whittet for the vacant assistant job at Brown. Souza was hired and spent the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons with the Brown Bears. His primary responsibilities included recruiting, coaching the forwards and overseeing the power play. Coach Whittet credited Souza with "having a keen eye for talent and an ability to connect with recruits of all backgrounds." Near the end of Souza's second season with Brown, Whittet offered this glowing assessment:
"I think he has all the traits to be a head coach. He's a guy that really gets it. He understands kids. He puts in the work. Obviously you have to pay your dues like all of us have. There has to be some ability to translate overseeing an organization from being an assistant. That's a reality for Mike. I'm so excited he's part of our staff; he's invaluable to Brown hockey."
Around this time, Coach Umile said this about Souza:
"Mike has a tremendous personality. People enjoy him, and he's a great competitor. He was a great player and he did a lot for the program, on and off the ice. He's quickly become very well-respected in college-coaching circles."
In May, 2013, the University of Connecticut took a bold step in its preparation for joining Hockey East with the hiring of Boston College Assistant Mike Cavanaugh to be their head coach. A month later, Coach Cavanaugh hired Mike Souza to be his assistant coach at UConn. For the past two seasons, Souza has been primarily responsible for coordinating the Huskies' power play and directing the team's recruiting.

Less than two months ago, Coach Cavanaugh promoted Souza to the position of associate head coach. In the official announcement, Cavanaugh said:
"I am pleased to announce that Mike Souza has been promoted to Associate Head Coach at the University of Connecticut. Mike's extensive playing experience and coaching skills continue to enhance our program. He was an integral part of our success competing in our first year in Hockey East and will continue to be a key part of the growth of this program."

3 Former UNH Captains - 3 UNH Coaches

With Mike Souza on board, the UNH men's hockey coaching staff is comprised of three former team captains and members of the UNH Century Club. Coach Umile captained the 1971-72 squad and scored 144 points in three seasons (freshmen were not allowed to play varsity hockey). Associate Head Coach Glenn Stewart, who is 44 years old and was hired by Umile last August, was the Wildcats' Alternate Captain in the 1993-94 season. UNH qualified for the NCAA Tournament in Stewart's sophomore and senior seasons. Stewart scored 102 points in four seasons before embarking on a 9-year professional playing career.


Mike Souza's return to his alma mater as the Associate Head Coach of the UNH Wildcats is also a home-coming, of sorts, for his wife Kelly. The couple met at UNH and she played for the UNH women's hockey team. Kelly has coached hockey and lacrosse at St. Mary Bay View Academy in East Providence, RI. The Sousa's have two daughters, Ella and Ava. The love of hockey is spread throughout their extended family. Kelly's sister Krissy played hockey for Brown University. Her other sister Kim is married to Chris Bourque who plays in the AHL and is Hall-of-Famer Ray Bourque's son. Mike Souza is the cousin of former UNH star and current New Jersey/Albany Devils' forward Paul Thompson.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Marcus Vela, Incoming UNH Freshman, Drafted by San Jose Sharks

San Jose Sharks Draft UNH's Marcus Vela

Power center Marcus Vela is on his way. On June 27th, the 6'1", 205 lbs., right-shot forward was selected by the San Jose Sharks in the 7th Round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He was the 170th pick overall. Next month, Marcus will leave his hometown of Burnaby, British Columbia for the cross-continent journey to Durham, New Hampshire for his freshman year at the University of New Hampshire.

Less than two years ago, at the age of 16, Vela (DOB: 3/3/1997) went to play Junior A hockey for the Langley Rivermen in the British Columbia Hockey League. Two months into his rookie season in the BCHL, Marcus Vela verbally accepted a scholarship offer from UNH. Over the course of the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, Vela netted 32 goals and added 42 assists for the Rivermen. Last December, he played for Team Canada West in the 2014 World Junior A Challenge.

Player Year Team League GP Goals Asst Pts PIM
Marcus Vela  (F) 2014/2015 Langley Rivermen BCHL 50 20 26 46 57
Playoffs BCHL 3 0 1 1 4
2013/2014 Langley Rivermen BCHL 54 11 11 22 41
Playoffs BCHL 12 1 4 5 6

Here are some video highlights of Marcus Vela from the 2014-15 season, courtesy of Langley Rivermen TV:

Scouting Reports

Scouting report from NHL CSS:
"Key on the power play and penalty kill … plays a responsible two-way game … very strong on the puck … solid on face-offs … brings a physical element … plays with a purpose … good vision … high compete level.”
From Elite Hockey Prospects:
"An offensively gifted power center that takes the game as it comes to him. Good hockey sense and possesses the positive character traits that indicate versatility in a lineup; scouts look for these intangibles in players. Decent skating ability, but knows what he can and can't do. Knows how to direct plays and realizes when and how he can step in to make a difference - whether it be through a little bit of rough stuff or with a clutch goal. All-in-all, the type of well-rounded player that can compliment his linemates well, and knows how to make an impact in a game.”


On NHL Draft day, Marcus Vela was at home in Burnaby, British Columbia with his dad Dave and mother Liz. I had an opportunity to interview Marcus, via email, about his selection in the NHL draft:

Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): Congratulations on your selection in the 7th Round of the 2015 NHL Draft. I understand you were at home in Burnaby, British Columbia on draft day. Would you describe what it was like as Day 2 of the draft began?
Marcus Vela: As Day 2 began I knew that if I were to be selected in the 2015 NHL Draft that it would be on this day. I woke up in the morning and started to watch the draft with my family. Once the draft reached the 5th round mark, I started to watch a little closer because that was where I was projected to go. But, by the beginning of the 7th round my name didn't pop up.
I wasn't too upset because my current mindset is to be ready for my freshman year at UNH this coming fall. I knew that if I didn't get drafted, my journey would not end but in fact I would have the chance to play collage hockey and develop my game further. Once I saw my name pop up, I was excited and honoured to have been selected by the San Jose Sharks.

Mike Lowry: Since last September, the NHL Central Scouting Service has consistently identified you as a prospect likely to be drafted this year. Now, the San Jose Sharks have drafted you and you are the only player from the British Columbia Hockey League to be drafted this year. As the draft progressed into the later rounds, were you concerned that you might not hear your name called?
Marcus Vela: Yes, I started to get concerned as the rounds went on but for me the draft wasn't everything. Obviously, the draft is a huge deal and a great accomplishment but I knew whether I got drafted or not I would be playing collage hockey and would have a chance to develop my game much further. As I found out, I had been selected I was honoured and proud to have been picked by San Jose.

Lowry: Did the scouting staff of NHL clubs interview you ahead of the draft? Did you have a sense that San Jose might draft you?
Vela: Yes, I was in contact with a few teams, one of them being San Jose. I had a feeling San Jose had more interest in me but I did not know how much interest there really was.

Lowry: What are the skills that you think might make you a successful NHL forward in the future?
Vela: My style of play is a 2-way power center. I am responsible in my own end and have a physical element to my game. I can also chip in offensively and help in that area of the game. Aside from the need to develop further before starting a professional career, I believe that being a responsible 2-way power center can make me successful in the future.

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