This is the fifth installment of "Cat Trax," a series of feature stories that will periodically appear on the UNH athletics Web site.
By Christina Coleman, UNH Athletic Media Relations
The University of New Hampshire men’s ice hockey team lost five seniors to graduation last year, including an All-America goaltender in Kevin Regan, All-America defensemen Brad Flaishans, and Hockey East Second Team honoree Craig Switzer. Some questions arose regarding the Wildcats’ blueline, but so far this season, the defense has been solid.
The Wildcat defense, led by Captain Joe Charlebois (Potsdam, New York) as well as classmates Jamie Fritsch (Odenton, Maryland) and Kevin Kapstad (Boxboro, Mass.) is confident in not only their own ability, but the ability of the rest of the team. The trio is ready to take on the responsibility that comes with being a senior on a team that is known for a strong performance year in and year out.
“There is more responsibility, but the pressure is about the same. The spotlight is always on us whenever we play, so there is some added responsibility,” said Charlebois. “You have to take care of the younger guys and they look up to you and the coaches look to you for something to happen.”
Kapstad agreed, saying “You get more ice time as you get older, you’re counted on to make better decisions as you get older and the coaches seem to put more trust on you.”
Fritsch explained it’s the experience and the success the team has had in the past that makes it easier to rebuild after key losses due to graduation. “I think just the experiences we’ve gone through, the games we’ve played in, the playoff experience… We’ve won two regular-season championships so we know what it takes to win the regular-season title and once you get to playoffs we have experience there too. Now we know what it takes to be successful there.”
For their three years spent in Durham, the trio has put up numbers that represent their defensive skills.
Charlebois, Hockey East’s reigning Best Defensive Defensemen boasted an impressive +26 plus/minus rating for the 2007-2008 season. His strong shot and physical presence are hard to miss when he is out on the ice.
“He can throw big hits, which can obviously change the momentum of the game,” said Fritsch. Described as a grind-it-out type player, Charlebois is also great on the penalty kill, really taking care of his defensive responsibilities first.
Kapstad is the closest thing to a utility player that the Wildcats have as he served as a forward several times during the 2007-08 season. He is a threat due to both his offensive ability and his strong defensive skills. He has accumulated 18 points (7 goals, 11 assists) in 79 games played for the ‘Cats.
Fritsch registered a +17 for the 2007-08 season and has 31 points (10 goals, 21 assists) in 108 games played. Not only can Fritsch score during specialty situations, but he is also very good at setting up his teammates for opportunities.
The other element to the Wildcat defense is goaltending; which is now in the hands of junior Brian Foster (Pembroke, N.H.). Having played behind Kevin Regan the last two seasons, it is now Foster’s chance to backbone the defense.
“Some people were questioning how Foster would step up after Regan left,” said Fritsch. “He has definitely been up to the challenge. He’s ready for it; he’s been waiting for it for two years,” said Fritsch.
Charlebois echoed the praise of Foster. “Brian’s anchored us back there...it’s only been three games but he’s been a rock, he has helped us a lot when we get in trouble, we have confidence in him he can back us up.”
In five games played so far this season, Foster has posted a notable 1.39 goals-against-average with one shutout.
“Brian’s been great in net,” Kapstad said. “He hasn’t been giving up a lot of rebounds and that’s where goals are scored.”
The senior blueliners are now leading the way for the Wildcat defense, and are looking forward to the challenge.
“I think Joe, Kevin, and I all bring a unique set of skills to the table, and it’s big to have three senior defensemen back there, and then we have some young freshmen and sophomores that are ready to contribute so we’re ready to fill that hole and I think were up to the challenge,” Fritsch said.