AW’s Mike McDougall, left, is congratulated for his goal by Chad Bialecki.
Opponents will find it difficult to find a chink in the armor of the Anthony Wayne Generals.
The experienced hockey team features great goaltending, a potent and deep offense, and a lock-down defensive unit.
“I'm very fortunate that we have a good all-around team,” first-year coach Troy Boze said. “We not only have talent and skill, we also have experience and a lot of leadership.”
The Generals have charged out of the gate to a 13-4-0 overall record. AW is undefeated in the Northwest Hockey Conference White Division.
The Generals are the defending regular-season champs and are in first place in the National Conference of the division with a 7-0-0 record. They have outscored their division opponents 52-13.
“That is exactly what we want,” Boze said.
Of the 16 players, seven are seniors. Senior captain Chris Miller, who leads the team with 17 goals, said the team has three solid lines.
“You never know who will have a good game because we all have the ability to score,” Miller said. “That takes the pressure off of the first line.”
Miller also has a team-high 28 points with 11 assists. The senior forward is paired on the Generals' No. 1 line with senior Cal Johnson and junior Brandon Zielinski.
Johnson leads AW with 17 assists. He also has scored 10 goals and ranks second with 27 points.
Zielinski has tallied 26 points with nine goals and 17 assists.
Anthony Wayne’s Cal Johnson, left, collides with Clay's Devin Gabella. Johnson has 10 goals and 17 assists.
Boze said the trio of forwards would be among the top players on the upper tier NHC Red Division teams.
“That line has a lot of offensive firepower,” Boze said.
Boze said senior goalie Chad Podbielniak is oftentimes the “deciding factor” in games. The three-year starter can get on a roll and turn away shot after shot, according to his coach.
“He's the premiere goalie in the White,” Boze said. “He's the type of goalie who can steal a game and can protect a lead for his teammates.”
Podbielniak has a .910 save percentage.
Boze said he believes Podbielniak could be the No. 1 goalie for any team in the Red Division, which has produced three state titles in the last six seasons.
At 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, Podbielniak is receiving interest from junior teams and Division II college programs.
“He's very skilled and disciplined,” Boze said. “And he doesn't get down on himself.”
Miller said that when Podbielniak makes big saves it gives he and his teammates a huge boost.
“He's one of the best goalies in our league,” Miller said. “He wins games for us, and he keeps us in games. We know we can rely on him.”
Podbielniak said his team's ability to play sound defense, as well as produce consistent offense, makes his job easier.
“We have all-around talent with a team that can put the puck in the net and can still play back on defense,” Podbielniak said. “I have confidence in them. They know how to play defense.”
The senior netminder said the balance helps alleviate pressure from his shoulders.
“I don't put it all on myself,” he said. “It's not just a one-man team. If the team plays good, I play good.”
AW's second line of forwards utilizes more of a grinding style.
Senior Chad Bialecki, sophomore Mike McDougall, and senior Robbie Brubaker have combined for 30 points so far this season.
McDougall had 13 points (eight goals, five assists), while Brubaker has 10 points (five goals, five assists). Bialecki has seven points with two goals and five assists.
McDougall gave the team a boost by joining the team this season after playing travel hockey.
The defensive corps is led by senior seniors Sam Spencer and Harrison Pawliski.
“Both are smooth skaters,” Boze said. “They can play positional defense and can fire the puck from the blue line.”
Pawliski has scored eight goals to go along with two assists. Spencer has five goals and seven assists.
The other top defensemen include sophomore Austin Pennell, junior Cody Bowman, and junior Carson Bales.
Pennell played travel hockey as a freshman. He has six goals and six assists this season.
Bowman, who started as a freshman, is a stay-at-home defenseman with six assists and one goal.
Bales, who has six assists, has the ability to consistently clear pucks.
AW has had female players in the past, and this season junior Julia Phillips has four points.
Sophomore Cole Breese has chipped in with six points (two goals, four assists). Sophomore Alec Smith is a backup goalie.
Boze said the forwards do a terrific job setting each other up. He said Miller also is a very physical player.
“He fits the style of hockey we play,” Boze said. “He will muck it up in the corner.”
Boze, who was an assistant at AW for two years before taking over as the head coach this year, credited former coaches Dave Faulkner and Derek Helmke for laying a solid foundation.
“They established a system and we continue to implement those systems,” Boze said. “We play positional hockey. It's not a free for all out there.”
Clay’s James LaPlante, left, and Anthony Wayne’s Chris Miller battle for the puck. Miller leads the Generals with 17 goals.
The Generals went 3-0 to win the Ottawa Park Christmas Classic tournament Dec. 22-23.
Boze said among the team's goals are to defend the regular season title and then “go after the White Division title overall” in the postseason tournament.
Podbielniak said a loss to Maumee in the White Division tournament championship game last season has served as motivation. The Generals won the regular season and tournament titles when the senior group were sophomores.
“We're trying to get it back,” he said. “We need to win it one more time.”
A loftier goal Boze has set for this team is to become the first in school history to win a second-round game in the state playoffs.
“It would mean a lot to knock out a Red team in the second round,” Miller said. “If we play our game we should be able to.”
Added Boze: “We have the caliber of kids that can do it.”
Miller said the team has confidence it can hang with some the top teams in the area.
“We want to compete at that level. With our talent there is no reason we shouldn't,” Miller said. “It's on the back of our minds. All of us seniors will leave it on the table.
"It's our last shot to say we accomplished something. We will try to make a statement.”
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354, or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.
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