The start of every season mirrors the shedding of fall foliage. Teams and players can shed the burdens from the previous year and begin the process of starting with a white canvas heading into the winter months. Some trees don’t shed so easily, and neither do players, especially after an unsatisfying finish.
Eric Sweetman still carries some of his leaves.
“As an organization, we weren’t satisfied after last year,” said Sweetman on last year’s playoff results. “It’s a brand new year to do new things, but it’s always going to be in the back of your head that it shouldn’t have happened. We’re just ready to get going and surpass what we did last year.”
A lot of those branches are worth keeping around for Sweetman, who made a strong impact during the second half of his rookie campaign with the Steelheads, finishing the year with 27 points (10g, 17a) through 65 games. He was named Steelheads Defenseman of the Year, played the most games for a Steelheads rookie defenseman since 2010-11, and finished in the top-10 among ECHL defensemen with a +22 rating.
He’s also the only returning Steelheads player on the blue line, which could get a player caught in a sense of security on the roster.
But Sweetman doesn’t see it that way. He feels like he’s auditioning for a spot just like everyone else despite being a returning player.
“There are a lot of good defensemen here and a lot of good players. I can’t really go into this thinking that I have a solidified spot, which I don’t. That’s kind of my mentality right now, almost like I’m a rookie. I’ve got to prove myself.”
In fact, his only real difference in vibe is that he’s gone through the training camp process in Boise before. He knows what to expect, and he’s utilized as a resource for newer players, but there’s a lot the 24-year-old feels he can improve on heading into this season.
“I know what type of game that I play, and that’s what I’m here for so I’m going to do that. Should be the same as last year.”
Back home in Woodbine, Maryland, Sweetman spent time with family, ventured to the beach, went fishing, and visited his brother in Baltimore, which is about a 40-minute drive East up Interstate 70. His main focus was training and improving. Along with other professional players and collegiate players, he’d spend mornings at Piney Orchard Ice Arena in nearby Odenton working out followed by skating sessions around noon. Everything was on the docket to hone in on.
The off-season prep led right into camp, where compete was the last piece to gear up for the season.
“I kind of worked on everything from skating to shooting. It’s better to come out here because you get the competitive edge and get that back as quick as possible ahead of our games. All-in-all, it’s mostly skills in the summer.”
Now that camp is in full swing, Sweetman sees the product of his training and that of those around him in the first few days. In his eyes, the product that’s been shown feels consistent for bringing everyone up-to-speed. The pressure still remains to make a roster spot, and that’s evident with each skate and team gathering.
“It’s always funny because everyone is trying to get to know each other. Everyone is always trying to impress everyone (else), going 100 miles per hour. All the guys look great out there. It’s just a lot of fun right now.”
Fall is the most fun time of year with anticipation, fresh legs, and new faces. At the end of the day, the roster is not finalized, and Sweetman, like every other player in the locker room, continues to shed their spring and summer branches to make way for new experiences while keeping some branches coated, remembering the work needed to improve and earn a spot for opening night.