As we give thanks for many good things this week, the Where Are They Now staff highlights five special moments involving former Waterloo Black Hawks players during the last 12 months.
#5 – The 2019 NHL Draft
Vancouver turned into a special place for Vladislav Firstov and Matej Blumel. That’s where Firstov was selected in the by the Minnesota Wild during the second round of the 2019 NHL Draft. Blumel was chosen a couple of rounds later – 100th overall – by the Edmonton Oilers.
Early the next week, Blumel was in Edmonton at the Oilers’ prospect camp. He is the first Waterloo skater to ever be drafted by Edmonton. Firstov joined Nick Swaney as the second Black Hawk in three years to be picked by the Wild.
So far during the 2019/20 season, Firstov has played in a dozen games as a freshman for the University of Connecticut. He scored his first NCAA goal against RPI on October 12th and has two goals and four assists. Meanwhile, Blumel has returned to Czech Republic to spend this season with HC Pardubice. He has two goals and an assist during 16 Czech league appearances.
#4 – February at Daytona
There aren’t many members of the Black Hawks’ 2004 Clark Cup championship team who are still on the ice, but Michael Annett is certainly still competing. After transitioning from hockey to stock car racing, Annett has established a long career in motor sports, and 2019 was arguably his best season.
During the year’s first race back on February 16th, Annett led 45 of 120 laps to take the checkered flag for the first time in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series. The victory made him eligible for the series playoffs, and he followed up with a number of good finishes throughout the spring, summer, and fall. In fact, from mid-July onward, he didn’t finish lower than 15th.
Annett’s 19 top ten finishes were the most he has ever had. That included six top five results on the way to ending the year 9th in the standings. For good measure, Annett claimed a pole for the first time in his career in May at Talladega.
#3 – In the World Championships
Six former Hawks took the ice for three different countries at the top level of two International Ice Hockey Federation world championship competitions.
During late December and early January, Mikey Anderson and Dylan Samberg were joined by Jack Drury at the World Junior Championships. Anderson and Samberg were each representing the United States for a second time.
Serving as captain, Anderson had two goals and three assists. Samberg contributed a pair of assists, and all three players skated in each of the seven U.S. games. Together the group reached the championship contest in Vancouver and returned home with the silver medal.
Meanwhile, Shane Bowers played for the hosts. He recorded a pair of assists in five games for Canada.
Then in May, Brandon Montour helped Canada win the silver medal during the Men’s World Championships in Slovakia. Montour appeared in three games during the competition.
Patrick Russell also played during the Men’s World Championships, representing Denmark.
#2 – Sanford Wins the Cup
The 2019/20 season had a storybook finish for the St. Louis Blues. From languishing in last place near the midpoint of the schedule to celebrating with the Stanley Cup in early June, it was a remarkable year.
In some ways, forward Zach Sanford’s experience was a microcosm of what the whole team went through. He had missed all of the prior year due to injury, but had some memorable early games. Still, around New Year’s Eve, Sanford was skating in the American Hockey League for the Blues’ affiliate in San Antonio. In the end, he would appear in 60 Blues regular season games with eight goals and 12 assists.
Ice time was tough to find in the playoffs. During the first three rounds, Sanford only played in three games. His opportunity came in Game Three of the championship series against the Boston Bruins. Although Boston battered the Blues 7-2, Sanford provided a bright moment with an impressive assist, which – together with a generally strong game – earned him a place in the lineup for the rest of the series.
By the time the teams met for Game Seven, Sanford had three assists. Late in the second period, Sanford scored his first NHL playoff goal, helping the Blues build their lead. St. Louis won the game 4-1, with Sanford having a hand in the organization’s first championship.
#1 – Bulldogs Go Back-to-Back
In the spring of 2018, the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs won the NCAA hockey championship. Four Black Hawks alumni (Mikey Anderson, Peter Krieger, Dylan Samberg, and Nick Swaney) were part of the effort. Up until that time, Waterloo had never had such an extensive presence on an NCAA title-winning team.
In 2019, the Bulldogs were back in the Frozen Four with a couple of more Black Hawks on the roster. Jackson Cates and Hunter Lellig had joined the program as freshman, and Minnesota-Duluth picked up where they left off.
In the national championship game against Massachusetts, Anderson assisted on the game’s first goal during a power play late in the first period. In the second, he scored to build the lead to 2-0. Anderson’s third point of the night came on Cates’ third period goal, which set the final score at 3-0.
The Bulldogs finished the year with a 29-11-2 overall record (the 29 victories were the second-most in program history) and riding an eight-game winning streak. As a group, the six former Hawks made 224 appearances, notched 45 goals, accumulated 109 points, and were an aggregate +78.
The title made UMD the first school to win consecutive hockey championships since Denver in 2004 and 2005.
Photo courtesy of the St. Louis Blues.
Where Are They Now is presented by Karen’s Print Rite.