West Xtra: Offense and defense lifting Cougars on ice
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After winning just six games in 2010-11, Blackhawk sits atop the Open Classification standings and is currently on a 19-game unbeaten streak.
Much of the credit goes to the offense, as four Cougars entered the week in the top-20 in the league in scoring.
But just as much credit should go the defense. After allowing 4.3 goals per game last season, the Cougars are giving up just 2.3 goals per contest this season.
"The defense has been getting better," Blackhawk coach Matt Stuber said. "The kids are getting more comfortable the more they have been around the system."
Stuber is in his first season as head coach of Blackhawk and has instilled a more disciplined system for the Cougars. He also has moved around some of the pieces on the team.
After playing both defense and forward the past few seasons, Josh McCuean was moved exclusively to defense this season. Not only has he become the team's leader on the blue line, he also leads the team in assists (31) and is third in goals (17).
"He has been our leader back there," Stuber said. "He logs a ton of minutes for us."
McCuean isn't the only forward who was moved back to defense. Freshman Robbie Swinderman has made the switch and is sixth on the team with 16 points despite playing in only 11 games due to obligations for his travel team.
Owen Schafer, Brett Peacock, Robert Houk and Cory Steinle join the duo on the blue line.
Playing behind those six is sophomore Grant Rombold, who was 6-12-2 last season. Stuber said goaltending was a question mark at the beginning of the season, but Rombold has erased those concerns.
"He's very important for us," Stuber said. "He's making the saves he needs to make."
Because Blackhawk's offense is averaging 7.7 goals per game, Rombold doesn't usually have to be perfect.
But section foe Harbor Creek allows fewer than two goals per game, and was able to hold Blackhawk to just three goals in a Jan. 24 game.
Harbor Creek also put 17 shots on Rombold in the first period, but the goaltender was up to the task, stopping 16 of them and allowing just three goals in the contest to earn a tie.
"He's stepped up at times when we've needed him," McCuean said. "He had a heck of a game against Harbor Creek."
For the season, Rombold is 13-1-1 with a 2.49 goals-against average and .877 save percentage. The Cougars will need him to continue his strong play in the postseason, when scoring tends to be at a premium.
"Yes, they tend to be low-scoring because it's single elimination, so when you lose, you're out," Stuber said. "We need to make sure we play good defense, because if we do, the goals will come."
First Published February 14, 2013 12:00 am