Anchorage — Dylan Hubbs has been called a pest, a rat, an agitator, a dirtbag and a bunch of other stuff that can't be printed.
"All the basics,'' he said, smiling. "I've just kind of worn it.''
To Hubbs, the UAA freshman winger who already rubs opponents raw after just four college hockey games, those are terms of endearment. If he touches nerves, Hubbs figures, he must be doing his job, which is to be a 5-foot-9, 159-pound piece of sandpaper.
Seawolves coach Matt Thomas, a little guy with some edge back in his playing days, has a soft spot for a player like Hubbs, who is undersized but doesn't play like it.
"I love guys like that,'' Thomas said. "I've heard this before: The game doesn't owe us anything, but we owe it one thing -- to play hard.
"Those four games, he's done some things that haven't impressed me. Every night, though, he's shown up and given me everything. You see his emotion, his passion. To me, that's what it's all about.''
As the Seawolves prepare to open Western Collegiate Hockey Association play with a series at Bowling Green after being idle last weekend, Hubbs leads the club's freshmen in scoring with three assists in four games. In UAA's last game, a 3-2 overtime victory against Denver on Oct. 19 in Fairbanks, Hubbs delivered the assist on Scott Allen's game-tying goal in the third period and the assist on Matt Bailey's game-winning strike in extra time.
Hubbs' play has landed him at right wing on a prime line with sophomore center Blake Tatchell, the team's leading scorer last season (25 points in 36 games), and junior left wing Scott Allen, the team's leading goal scorer last season (12 goals in 36 games).
To ascend to Division I college hockey, though, required Hubbs to transform his game when he hit his early teenage years in Beaumont, Alberta, near Edmonton.
"I just knew I wasn't going to out-skill a lot of guys, wasn't going to be a 40-goal scorer,'' Hubbs said. "Being small, I just knew if I gave my game some energy, that would help.
"I was always kind of pesky. But back in those days, everyone was about the same size. There were no 6-2 guys. Then there were a lot of 6-2 guys. Finally, I thought, 'I've got to start pushing back.' ''
So Hubbs began hitting everyone in a sweater of a different color. Stuck his nose into scrums. Yapped. Dropped the gloves when necessary.
None of that seemed too unusual for a guy who grew up with three older brothers.
"I've literally had the crap kicked out of me for years,'' Hubbs said.
In Hubbs' last two seasons in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, he racked up more than 500 penalty minutes. Two seasons ago, his 261 penalty minutes for the Olds Grizzlys ranked second on the circuit, far behind teammate Lucas Grundy's 351 minutes. Last season, when he furnished Olds with 17-33--50 scoring totals in 57 games, he led the league with 255 penalty minutes -- granted, roughly half those penalty minutes came in misconducts.
"It was kind of like one of those things where I'd get targeted,'' Hubbs said. "The hardest thing was to stay inside the lines, not cross over them.''
In college, where fighting is prohibited -- fight and you get kicked out of that game and the next one -- and the 34-game regular season puts a premium on discipline, Hubbs knows he needs to avoid crossing the line. He's been penalized three times so far, twice for cross-checking and once for slashing.
Current Seawolves fans probably see a lot of Kevin Clark in Hubbs. Clark was a 5-foot-9, 171-pound winger who from 2006-10 generated 51 goals and 325 penalty minutes, and ranks No. 2 all-time at UAA in penalty minutes. Longtime fans may see some Derek Donald in Hubbs. Donald was a 5-foot-7, 175-pounder who racked 74 career goals (No. 4 on UAA's list) and 239 penalty minutes (tied No. 10 all-time) from 1988-92.
Both Clark, who scored 23 goals as a senior, and Donald, who scored 23 goals as a senior and 22 as a junior, each owned more offensive upside than Hubbs. Still, Thomas likes the fire in Hubbs' game.
"He's a gamer,'' Thomas said. "When the game is on the line, he'll be there. It might not be pretty, it might not be (overly) skilled, but he's got heart, character. He's got courage.''
Sophomore forward Hayden Trupp, who missed the first four games with a lower-body injury, has been cleared to play.
With Tatchell centering Allen and Hubbs, senior Matt Bailey, the team's leading scorer, is centering Jordan Kwas and Brett Cameron. Cameron began the season centering the third line, a job that now is filled by Zack Rassell, who centers Hudson Friesen and Tanner Dusyk on an all-freshman line. The fourth line in practice earlier this week had Kory Roy centering Bobby Murphy and Andrew Pettitt.
Bowling Green senior Bryce Williamson and sophomore Ben Murphy each have scored five goals in six games, accounting for half of the Falcons' 20 goals.
The Falcons have been without junior Ryan Carpenter, their leader last season in goals and points with 18-15--33 totals in 41 games, after he underwent surgery for a broken finger suffered in an exhibition game Oct. 5.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
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