Confidence can go a long way. Just ask Brady Shaw. The University of Vermont junior forward credited it with his 13-goal improvement from one year to the next. Shaw scored six goals as a freshman before lighting the lamp 19 times during his sophomore campaign.
"Just confidence in myself, and confidence from the coaching staff," explained Shaw, when asked the biggest reason for the increased production. "I was out there in more key situations."
The Ottawa, Ontario native also thrived in a greater role, especially once classmate and 2013-14 Hockey East Rookie of the Year Mario Puskarich was sidelined for the year.
"Mario had such a good freshman year. I was jealous and wanted to put up the same numbers," said Shaw, who scored eight goals after Puskarich was injured in a February game at BC.
Shaw, a former First Team All-Star in the BCHL, acknowledged that there was a big jump from junior hockey to the NCAA level. He credited assistant coach Kyle Wallack for pushing him to play a more physical game.
"It's a more skilled game in the BCHL. The coaches told me to play more as a power forward, find open space and work on puck protection," said Shaw.
Although it took some adjusting, the style of play in Hockey East does fit Shaw, a six-foot-one, 200lbs left-shot winger who can play both sides.
"High compete level, I hate to lose," emphasized Shaw when asked how he'd describe his style of play. "I'd say I have a high hockey IQ, find the right areas, can slow the game down and have an above average shot," added Shaw.
A commitment to training before his sophomore year also made a difference. This summer he continued working on improving his strength and skating with Vermont Strength & Conditioning Coach Justin Smith.
"I stayed in Burlington to be with Justin Smith. We worked on quickness and strength on and off the ice," Shaw said.
Besides the coaching staff at UVM, Shaw has been able to rely on his father Brad, the associate head coach of the St. Louis Blues and a former NHLer with the Hartford Whalers and Ottawa Senators.
"He never forced me or pressured me into hockey. He let my love of the game take over. He's always been my biggest fan. He'll call me after games and give me his feedback. He's a huge part of it," explained Shaw.
Shaw and his teammates will have an immediate opportunity to prove themselves this season as the Catamounts have five huge nonconference games to start the year. After a season-opening trip to Minneapolis to face Minnesota in the Hockey Hall of Fame Game, UVM returns home to host Nebraska-Omaha and North Dakota on consecutive weekends.
"We're lucky to get some real good teams in. October could go a long way towards making our season," said Shaw, who admitted the ending to last season left a sour taste in his mouth.
"We had a great first half, but we ran into some adversity," Shaw commented.
Despite losing some key cogs on the defensive end, including Michael Paliotta, Nick Luukko and Brody Hoffman, Shaw said he and his teammates remain committed to the UVM philosophy.
"We are a team that prides itself on defense. We want to win Hockey East, but we are just going to take it one game at a time. We need to focus, stick to the game plan and good things will come," said Shaw.
Hoffman, who left a year early to sign with the Minnesota Wild, leaves a void in the UVM cage, but junior Michael Santaguida has the confidence of Shaw.
"We have a really high confidence level [in Santaguida]. We were BCHL teammates. I know what he is capable of," Shaw said.
With nine out of the first 11 games being at the Gutterson Fieldhouse, another strong first half will be necessary in getting UVM back to the NCAA Tournament after falling short last season. Shaw recognizes the advantage the home fans give his squad.
"We know the crowd will be rocking. There's not a crowd like it. I still get nervous lining up for the starting lineups," said Shaw.
Shaw and his teammates take the ice for the first time this season in front of their home fans for an exhibition game Sunday at 4 p.m. against Acadia.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior, high school and prep hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.