Waterloo has been whistled for the second-fewest penalty minutes in the USHL and has yet to give up a power-play goal in 27 attempts. The Black Hawks have actually outscored opponents while on the penalty kill with a pair of short-handed goals.
“We have a group back there that has all played junior hockey,” Waterloo Black Hawks head coach P.K. O’Handley said. “They’ve been good in the beginning.”
O’Handley said the defensive corps has gotten help from offensive possession as it makes the transition from being led by veterans Hank Sorensen, Mason Palmer and James Marooney a year ago. Sorensen and Palmer both now are freshman at Northern Michigan University, and Palmer is in his first year at Ohio State University.
“We’ve been able to defend reasonably well,” O’Handley said. “It’s still a work in progress there, but generally speaking, I think our group is fairly committed to that.
“It is a six-person job to defend. I think the other side of it that maybe gets lost sometimes is that you want to control the puck. Early on, we’ve been able to control the puck and hopefully that can continue in our favor.”
Mason Reiners, an 18-year-old from Edina, Minnesota, who joined the Black Hawks following the completion of his 2018-19 state championship high school campaign, leads the unit at plus-eight.
Brehdan Engum, a 19-year-old from Burnsville, Minnesota, was added to the Black Hawks early last season in a trade with the Central Illinois Flying Aces. The University of Massachusetts-Lowell commit leads the defensemen with three points, including two assists on the power play.
Aaron Bohlinger is the only Waterloo defenseman with a pair of goals. The 5-foot-9, 179-pound, 19-year-old from Walden, New York, played a full season of junior hockey last year after splitting a season between the NAHL’s Philadelphia Rebels and Omaha AAA Lancers the year prior.
“We’re thrilled he came back,” O’Handley said.
North Dakota commit Luke Bast has been a solid addition as well. Bast has already contributed two assists in his first season of USHL play.
Jacob Bengtsson and Nic Belpedio round out the unit. Belpedio, an 18-year-old from Skokie, Illinois, played 48 USHL games with the Muskegon Lumberjacks last season. Bengtsson is a returner from last year’s Black Hawks team.
Waterloo’s offense and defense will be tested as it embarks on a six-game road trip beginning Oct. 26. Included in that is a meeting with fellow undefeated and in-state rival Dubuque Fighting Saints, currently occupying first place in the Eastern Conference. Dubuque is the USHL’s second-most stingy team defensively allowing just 11 goals. The Black Hawks return home on Nov. 15.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo courtesy of Hickling Images.