Wednesday, March 12, 2008

DU's Newest Recruit Is A Classic Late Bloomer

(above) Wichita forward Luke Salazar (10) skates into the offensive zone
Photo Credit: Jason Palmer/Times Record

From: Wichita Falls Time-Record
by Zach Duncan

DU's newest recruit Luke Salazar wasn't considered by many to be a legitimate Division I prospect. Before the season began, even Salazar would have considered you crazy for even suggesting it.

The Wichita Falls Wildcats (NAHL) forward willingly admits no one could have forecasted the kind of season he’s enjoying right now.

“If someone told me I would score 30 goals all year, I would have thought I was dreaming,” the NAHL’s second-leading goal scorer said. “And 50 points all year? I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Salazar has turned heads across the junior hockey landscape, blossoming into one of the league’s most dangerous sharpshooters in his second season with the Wildcats. His 32 goals trail only St. Louis’ Kyle O’Kane (34) for the league lead, and Salazar is also third in points.

“I knew he had it in him,” said Wildcats captain Adam Cardwell, who centers a line with Grant Everett and Salazar. “He just needed the confidence and another year under his belt, and he’d take off.”

Cardwell and Wichita Falls coach John Bowkus both agreed the biggest difference in Salazar’s game this season isn’t any drastic improvement in skill, but more self-assurance in his ability.

A year ago, he played in all but one game with the Wildcats, scoring 10 goals and amassing 23 points while showing flashes of brilliance.

But that’s nothing compared to the 2007-08 season, as the 19-year-old has already tripled his production with 14 games to spare.

“He’s got a lot more confidence,” Cardwell said. “He makes good decisions, and he’s looking to shoot and score more goals.”

Bowkus adds that Salazar uses his quickness and speed well, and that his vision and puck-handling abilities are superb.

While his growth on the ice is one reason for his breakout campaign, the Thornton, Colo., native also acknowledges that his success stems from his linemates, who form the most potent trio in the NAHL.

Initially, Cardwell and Everett were paired together with another forward, but Bowkus added Salazar to the top line in the preseason after watching the three develop on the power-play unit.

Salazar had played with Everett on a line together last year before Everett was injured, which hastened the transition.

“That definitely helped because you know what type of player Everett is,” said Salazar, who also calls Cardwell one of, if not the best player in the league. “Grant’s so good in the corners with the puck. I knew that beforehand, so I could take risks.”

Salazar is the smallest guy on the Wildcats, weighing in at 155 pounds and standing 5-7. But that hasn’t stopped him from getting to the right places to score goals.

“His stature hasn’t hindered him whatsoever,” Bowkus said. “I’m sure he’d like to be taller, but he’s a legitimate Division I talent.”

From fourth line winger to top league prospect — not so unbelievable after all.

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