When the Owls ended their last practice of 2014-15 Feb. 16, a few players remained out on the ice.
As their teammates retreated to the locker room, then-freshman forwards Devon Thomas, Eric Graham, Alex Kempinski and freshman defenseman Ryan Dumbach lingered at the Flyers Skate Zone.
“It sounds cliché, but it’s definitely something winners do,” Kempinski said. “It’s something the best players have lived by the old saying that says, ‘Five minutes extra before the game and five minutes extra after the game adds up over a season.’”
Now sophomores, Thomas, Graham, Kempinski, Dumbach and forward Joey Powell have seen the extra work pay off this season, as each of them has either surpassed or matched their 2014-15 goal total halfway through this year. The group totaled 11 goals, 22 assists and 34 points last season and have 19 goals, 19 assists for 38 points midway through 2015-16.
Powell leads his second-year teammates with seven goals and seven assists for 14 points after scoring six goals and notching 11 assists last season.
He returned to the team’s top line this year with senior forward Stephen Kennedy.
“Joey’s a good player,” Kennedy said. “He’s got a good hockey IQ. He’s like me. We’re not the fastest skaters, but he’s good at getting to the right places at the right time.”
Thomas, Graham, Kempinski, Dumbach and Powell have made up 35 percent of the team’s scoring through 14 games.
Their minutes were restricted during their freshman seasons due to the squad’s 12 upperclassmen, who claimed most of the playing time.
“They’ve definitely stepped up in all essences of their games,” Kennedy said. “They’re taking on a leadership role. They’re putting more points on the board when needed. They’re filling voids that were needed from last year, but overall they’ve stepped up when they needed to. And as long as there is progression every year they come here to play, the team should be OK.”
The team’s veterans consider Graham one of the Owls’ most improved starters. He tallied two goals and five assists for the team, compared to two goals and three assists last season.
Graham’s evolution was on display Nov. 8 against Canisius. Graham made a mistake halfway through the game that led to the Golden Griffins taking a two-goal lead. He lost some shifts because of the mishap but came back to score the game-winning goal.
“I was obviously fired up about it, but then he came back and scored that sixth goal,” coach Roman Bussetti said. “It’s one of those things where he knows he fixed the mistake he needed to.”
Dumbach has risen to the distinction of one of the team’s top-tier defenseman, tallying five goals and four assists. Kempinski is lauded by the upperclassman as a third-line grinder. He has three goals and two assists after not scoring a goal last season.
Thomas, who plays on the same line as Graham, has two goals and an assist.
“It’s been leaps and bounds with our sophomore class compared to last year,” junior forward Aron Litostanski said. “They’ve really grown into themselves, and there’s a bright future for them in their junior and senior years.”
Stephen Godwin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @StephenGodwinJr.