Neil Musselwhite has always had great speed.
It gives me a little more time than other guys, the Komets rookie forward said. You can get to the pucks faster, jump in the openings. If youre at a stand-still next to a guy, it gives you a little extra time to make something happen.
Coach Al Sims, who signed Musselwhite on Nov. 19, knowing he was getting a speedster, admitted he was blown away at first glance.
No, I really havent seen anybody (faster in the Central Hockey League), yet, Sims said. (Lincoln) Kaleigh Schrock we look at as really fast and I think Musselwhite has got Kaleigh by a step. Were talking about some real speed, and he hasnt really learned to use it completely yet. But when he gets in the free or gets a step on somebody, theyre not catching him.
Musselwhite, 25, spent the last four seasons at Oswego State. He scored 23 goals and 36 points in 29 games as a senior, a huge boost from the seven goals and 12 points he totaled the season before. The coaches there had recognized he neednt be just a defensive specialist and gave him a different role.
He wound up getting nominated as one of the fastest collegiate skaters in the nation – there were about 150 names submitted – and he was the only Division III player who got an invite to the Frozen Four. He won the competition, edging Minnesota State-Mankatos Zach Harrison by two-tenths of a second with a record time of 14.3 seconds.
I knew I probably had a shot at winning, Musselwhite said. Growing up, all the guys who would up playing Division I, I had skated side by side with them.
Though Sims lauded Musselwhites efforts in the defensive end, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound native of Burlington, Ontario, said he still needs to improve.
Its different from college, for sure, he said. The guys are a lot stronger, a lot bigger and faster. Defense is so important here. It always has been in hockey, but everyone is held accountable here for doing their jobs.
Though the Komets are 5-10-1 and in last place in the CHL, Musselwhite has tallied one goal and four points in seven games.
Hes coming along, and hes only going to get better, said Sims, whose Komets play at Wichita (9-8-2) tonight. Hes only going to get more confident. But for a kid to put up four points in his first seven games, thats showing us hes got offensive ability.
Musselwhite knows that the Komets, who won the last three championships of the IHL, are under intense pressure to improve. He wants to help them turn this season around and he knows his speed will be the way to help make it happen.
I havent contributed as much as I want to, he said. But at least Ive put up a couple points. Hopefully itll open up over the next few games. Not just for me but for the whole team.