Justin Schwartzmiller is playing in a new state, a new time zone and at a different altitude.
But change has been good for Schwartzmiller and the Sheridan Hawks, as the former Wisconsin Whalers franchise gets a fresh start in the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL).
Schwartzmiller believes that training in the higher elevation in Wyoming has helped get him in the best shape of his life and he says that the reception the team has received made leaving Wisconsin, his home state, easier.
“Coach [Andy] Scheib was our coach last year and I was one of the first guys he came up to and asked about it,” Schwartzmiller said. “I was kind of pumped about it. I came out and saw it in June.
“When I came out in June, I absolutely fell in love with the town and the people. You could tell people knew we were outsiders, but they were nice to us, came up and introduced themselves and told us how excited they were for the team to come. At that point, I knew this was the place I wanted to be.”
“I couldn’t be happier for Justin and the success he’s having this season,” Scheib said. “It’s good for the team, the program as a whole and the community to have such a talented and well-rounded player representing the city.”
The results on the ice have been just as positive for Schwartzmiller individually and the team as a whole.
After the Wisconsin Whalers finished a game under .500 and ended up nine standings points out of the playoffs in the Central Division, the Sheridan Hawks are now currently third in the Frontier Division with a 12-4-0-0 record.
The Hawks lead the eight-team division in scoring and are tied with the Northeast Generals for the best goal total in the entire 34-team NA3HL at 109.
Special teams success and Schwartzmiller’s production are a big reason for the offensive explosion.
Sheridan leads the NA3HL with an unheard-of 55.2 percent power-play success (32-for-58). The Hawks have outscored opponents even while shorthanded, producing eight goals while allowing only seven, and killing at a rate of 88.5 percent.
“We’ve had a really good power play so that has been huge for us,” Schwartzmiller said. “Our top three lines have really good scoring depth. Our penalty kill has been killing at about 88 percent so we get momentum from that.
“We seem to score after penalty kills or even on the penalty kills.”
Schwartzmiller is tied for the league lead with four game-winning goals, ranks second with 25 goals and is third with 43 points in 16 games.
At times, the scoring by the special teams and Schwartzmiller go hand-in-hand. Schwartzmiller shares the NA3HL lead with nine power-play goals, is tied for second in short-handed goals (three) and is sixth in power-play assists (10).
The open ice of special teams play has emphasized the situations where Schwartzmiller has thrived most.
“It’s been a lot of odd-man rushes and using my speed wide on guys,” said Schwartzmiller, whose production pace is up from last year when he finished with 35 goals and 22 assists in 47 games. “I haven’t had a lot of goals crashing the net and getting rebounds, it’s been mainly shooting the puck.
“I think that’s the thing I’m doing more of this year than I did last year.”
Schwartzmiller, a 19-year-old from Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, is the reigning Frontier Division Player of the Week. He has scored 19 times in an eight-game goal-scoring streak.
He is one of four Hawks with at least 33 points. Logan Syrup, who leads the team with 26 assists, and Blake Billings, who shares the team lead with seven power-play goals, join Kolten Wright as the others.
“Up and down, we have a good solid roster,” Schwartzmiller said. “We have good defensemen and we have pick up new goalies which is huge for us.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.