The sophomore slump is just a fact of life in hockey. Some players, for whatever reason, have impressive rookie seasons but struggle to continue to produce in the same way during their sophomore season. Whatever worked so well the year before just doesn’t seem to have the same effect. The sophomore slump doesn’t happen to every player, of course, and some players improve or reproduce their rookie season results in their second season.
A player who falls into the second category is Alex Poznikoff of the University of Alberta Pandas. The diminutive sophomore is only 5’2” but hasn’t let the fact she’s smaller than many of the opposition players she’s competing against stop her.
In her rookie season, Poznikoff netted 16 points in 28 regular season games and one point in three post season contests. Her points per game was 0.57 before the playoffs. She ranked second in rookie scoring and 13th overall in the Canada West conference scoring race before the playoffs. Poznikoff made the All-Star All-Rookie team and joined Team CIS (now rebranded as U Sports) to play in an exhibition series against the Team Canada Developmental Program and Team Sweden. She was one of 22 CIS players selected and the only Panda to attend.
Poznikoff’s rookie year was certainly a memorable one as she led the Pandas in scoring and adjusted to a new teammates and league. Poznikoff looked at home in her new environment almost immediately. The appearance of an effortless transition might be the most impressive thing about Poznikoff’s rookie year.
Poznikoff’s rookie season was solid, but she exploded offensively in her sophomore season. Her 25 points in only 24 regular season games placed her in third overall in the Canada West Conference. She finished the season with a 1.04 points per game average and was first in Pandas team scoring for the second year in a row.
Poznikoff’s playoff production wasn’t as statistically impressive as her regular season; at 0.50 points per game, it was still an impressive second year total. In fact, it was over a 100% increase on her first year playoff totals. Perhaps the most impressive part of Poznikoff’s playoff points total is that each point represents a goal scored. Three of those goals came in the U Sports National Championship in Napanee, Ontario, where Poznikoff managed a hat trick in the Pandas game against the Concordia Stingers. She was the only player to score a hat trick during the tournament, and her impressive performance throughout the three games played saw her named to the All-Star team.
Poznikoff finished her second year with a set of stats that are much more impressive than those of her rookie year. As an example, she jumped ten positions in the Canada West scoring race. Such a large jump in only one year is an impressive accomplishment. More than any one achievement represented by stats, Poznikoff stepped into a considerably more prominent role for the Pandas in her second season. There were hints of the leader Poznikoff would start to become in her rookie season: she spent a considerable amount of time on the top line as a rookie.
During her second season, Poznikoff has played with a few players as lines shifted to accommodate the needs of the team. Her most consistent line-mates have been Kennedy Ganser (a rookie centre having an impressive season of her own) and Autumn MacDougall (another second year player having a much stronger sophomore season.) There isn’t much to argue for any other line being the Pandas top line, as the line of Poznokoff- Ganser-MacDougall has produced a significant number of the Pandas’ points, scoring chances, and offensive momentum. Poznikoff was a driving force behind the success of her line, using strong positional play, passing, and patience to give the Pandas the best opportunity possible from a variety of places on the ice.
Ponzikoff’s shot is both powerful and sneaky. It doesn’t take her long to get a shot off, making it difficult to defend against because it’s not apparent if she’ll shoot or pass. With Autumn MacDougall’s excellent work around the net and ability to keep the play alive, Poznikoff can sometimes get more than one chance on goal in a sequence of plays.
One of Poznikoff’s more surprising strengths is her ability to keep the puck despite the often larger opponents trying to take the puck from her. Poznikoff is often able to go into corners with the puck or battle along the boards to get the puck and either come away from the boards with puck or get the puck to a waiting Pandas’ player. At first glance, her smaller size may seem to put Poznikoff at a disadvantage against larger players; however, based on her play this last season, that hardly seems to be the case. Poznikoff is more than willing to counter size and strength with dogged persistence, creativity, and the ability to hold on to the puck in seemingly improbable situations.
As Poznikoff enters her third year, she will again be shouldering a role as a primary offensive threat for the Pandas. Obviously, the team will be hoping for a more secondary scoring instead of just one line providing the majority of the offense, but there are no doubts that Poznikoff will be a player opposition teams will be watching. Poznikoff can expect to play against many team’s top defensive pairings as opposing teams seek to limit her contributions. Opposition attempts to limit Poznikoff’s offense weren’t very successful last season, and it remains to be seen if Poznikoff can build off her sophomore season the way she built off her rookie season. Having watched her play and seen the development on the ice and her excellent hockey sense, an educated guess is that she can and will reach new heights in her third year.
It’s not just on the ice where Poznikoff will be expected to be a leader. As one of the veterans on a young team, players will be looking to her to lead the way. As a national champion, Poznikoff will be one of many returning players looking to continue a culture of winning and excellence in the Pandas program. The Pandas will look for another strong year from Poznikoff while they chase their ninth national title.