ONALASKA — Matt Blomquist could set his skates on cruise control this season if he chose to.
Blomquist, a third-year defenseman for the Coulee Region Chill/North Iowa Outlaws, has committed to NCAA Division I Bentley (Mass.) for 2012-13. Plus, he has played in 125 career NAHL games entering tonight’s home opener, so he carries plenty of veteran esteem.
But that’s not the way Blomquist is thinking.
The 20-year-old Blaine, Minn., native has a serious checklist before he heads off to college: Help the Chill go deep into the playoffs. Prepare himself to play at the next level. And finally, hit somebody.
“I definitely have got to start playing more physical,” Blomquist said.
Chill coach Garrett Strot agrees. It’s the piece of advice he’s stressed over and over to Blomquist for three seasons now.
Not that Blomquist, at
6-feet-2 and 194 pounds, is a pushover. He simply plays a more streamlined type of defense.
Blomquist will administer a bump or stick-check instead of a teeth-rattling hit to separate opponents from the puck. He has a total of 15 minor penalties — and no fights — in juniors.
Strot said there’s a difference between playing physical and playing cheap. He doesn’t want Blomquist to turn into an agitator or a brawler, just throw his weight around more.
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“He’s starting to be more of a physical presence and that’s something he’s got to continue,” Strot said. “He’s a strong kid and a strong skater. He doesn’t have to do anything after the whistle; that’s just dumb. He just has to finish off his checks with more authority. He’s a quiet kid, so he’s kind of got to change his personality when he’s on the ice.”
While Blomquist works on adding an edge to his game, the rest of his play is top-notch. Blomquist is second among NAHL defensemen in scoring this season (two goals-six assists-eight points). He led Chill defensemen with 34 points last season, plus two playoff goals.
At a practice this week, the Chill had a breakaway drill where the shooter is chased by a back-checker. The Chill’s forwards came in waves after wave and couldn’t score on goaltender Greg Ogard. Blomquist zipped the puck into the upper corner on his first try and between Ogard’s legs the next time.
Later, in a one-on-one drill, Blomquist showed off his subtle defensive skills, stopping two attackers with efficient body and stick checks.
“He’s not trying to overdo it,” Strot said. “Blommer has that speed to join the attack but his role in college is going to be as a defensive defenseman, that shutdown guy. He should be the guy we put against other team’s top forwards.”
Blomquist said it’s important for him to keep getting better. He’s not taking Bentley’s offer lightly.
“I just want to make it a solid year,” Blomquist said. “I definitely want to exceed the expectations. I want to prove (Bentley) right. I don’t want to go into next year with people saying, ‘How is he (playing in college) with the year he had last year?’”
Strot said Blomquist is playing at a high enough level now where there shouldn’t be any questions about that. However, Strot will keep chiding Blomquist to hit somebody.
“Just be a little more physical,” Strot said.