EDMONTON – Minute-munching defencemen who break up the rush and consistently drive the play forward are invaluable to hockey teams.
Stefan Danielson provides that for the MacEwan Griffins night-in and night-out. He doesn’t always get the accolades, but his play is essential to the team’s success.
“He’s probably logging the most minutes of anyone on the back end right now and that’s just because he plays in every situation for us,” said Griffins interim head coach Michael Ringrose. “If we need a goal, he’s a guy that I trust to get the job done. He’s got a great shot and he’s able to find ways to get pucks to the net.
“If we’re holding onto a lead, I trust him. He competes. I know he’s going to make good decisions with pucks. There’s really not a situation that he can’t step into and excel at.”
With seven assists in 16 games this season, the sophomore has been heavily involved in the genesis of scoring plays. He leads MacEwan (10-6-0-0) into weekend action against Portage (2-12-1-1) on Friday (7 p.m., Downtown Community Arena) and Saturday (7 p.m., Lac La Biche).
“I just try to be consistent for (my coach) – don’t overcomplicate things and try to make the plays to the best of my ability,” said Danielson.
“Offensively, my numbers aren’t outstanding, but I still get by and do all right. Defensively, I feel like I’ve gotten better. I’ve had to adjust my game to the bigger men, so I feel I’ve gotten better defensively and overall.”
That’s been his biggest adjustment since coming into the Alberta Colleges Athletic Association level last season out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (Camrose Kodiaks).
“It’s men instead of boys now,” he said. “I find it’s faster. Maybe not as skilled, but they’re definitely stronger. It’s more in the corners you find the difference.”
Having four former Kodiaks teammates on the Griffins – Brett Njaa, Cameron Gotaas, Tyler Morrison and Matthew Waseylenko – helped sway his decision to come to MacEwan.
“Big time. I was on the fence,” he said. “My parents wanted me to go to RDC because I’m a Red Deer guy. They wanted me to live at home – a little cheaper. But I had some buddies coming here and I thought it would be really fun to live within the city and play with them. So, it was the deciding factor.”
He maintains a number of friendships on the Red Deer College Kings, which, of course, get sidelined temporarily when the teams play against one another. It’s about the game on the ice after all and Danielson continues to progress after a rookie season last year when he produced four goals and 13 points in 25 games.
“I just think he’s more comfortable with the way we want to play – playing with pace, he moves pucks up ice quickly … and adds offence from behind the rush,” said Ringrose. “(He does) all the little things that we preach all the time for our defencemen, he’s embraced those and added them to his game. The results speak for themselves. He’s playing his best hockey.”
That’s positive heading into a pair of games against Portage, who sit in the ACAC cellar but hardly represent nights off for a Griffins team needing to play their best hockey down the stretch. MacEwan suffered through some inconsistencies in a split with SAIT last weekend and need a response this weekend.
“It was definitely a sloppy weekend by our standards when it came to structure,” said Ringrose. “The effort was there, but the structure was still coming back from Christmas. Our goal this week in practice heading into the weekend is to get that back.
“We want to continue to work on our game so we’re back to where we were at the end of the first half,” he continued. “We feel like that’s the way we need to play to be successful when it matters most. Like I said, the effort’s there and that’s great. It’s just about finding the details of our game again.”
Hit by some injuries, the Griffins have bolstered the forward corps with two new faces up front – former AJHL products Braden Jakubowski and Nick Harder.
Jakubowski (Leduc) was the captain of the Drayton Valley Thunder last season.
“The one thing about him is he can score,” said Ringrose. “He’s one of these guys who’s gifted around the net and has the ability to put pucks behind the goaltender – just has a knack for it. That’s something that we need and are excited to see what he can bring in the second half.”
Harder (Sherwood Park) previously played for Camrose, where he was teammates with Njaa, Gotaas, Danielson and Waseylenko during the 2013-14 season.
“He’s a MacEwan student that I was familiar with a little bit from watching him play in the Alberta Junior Hockey League,” said Ringrose. “It was a good fit for both sides. He hasn’t played in a half year here, so it’s going to take him some time to get going. But he’s definitely a valuable add at this point of the season.”
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