The possibility always existed, but New Albany hockey coach Matt Buss said he never discussed a potential position change with senior Colin Appell until tryouts were finished in early November.
Only then, with few defensemen on a 14-player roster, did Buss suggest Appell moving to the other end of the ice from his longtime position of forward.
“We offered it to him and he eagerly took charge,” Buss said. “And now he’s as good a defenseman as I’ve ever had.”
After more than a decade as an offensive player, the senior is finishing his high school career as one of the Eagles’ defensive anchors. He and classmate Josh Hall are on the top line of defensemen in front of freshman goalie Nathan Underhill.
Still, Appell was second on the team in goals with 18 through 27 games, 14 behind leading scorer Colin Carr. New Albany was 13-14 overall entering the Blue Jackets Cup, the CHC’s postseason tournament, and finished 7-8 in league play.
The district tournament begins the weekend of Feb. 18-20.
“He’s meant everything to us, really,” Carr said. “He’s the core of the group. I describe him as an offensive defenseman. He’s good at both (ends). He can do it all. He’s usually out there more than half the (minutes each) game carrying us.
“He’s one of the fastest skaters out there. He can take the puck all the way down and give us a goal when we need it. He can do it all.”
Appell was the Eagles’ leading scorer last year with 14 goals, yet did not hesitate to switch positions when asked.
“As a center, you’re kind of the third defenseman in the defensive zone. It wasn’t a seamless transition. It’s something I still have to work on, but being a center my whole life has helped me transition to defense,” said Appell, who began skating at age 2 and took up hockey a few years later. “That first game, we rolled with me on defense and it’s blossomed into a decent season.”
Buss, who played forward for Wisconsin in the early 1990s, did not downplay the difficulty of Appell’s move and went so far as to call him “the glue of the team.”
“Anytime I tried to play defense, it didn’t go well. It’s a totally different dimension,” Buss said. “You’re 180 degrees (opposite) from (forward), having the game play out in front of you as opposed to being on the attack as a forward and the game is on your stick. It’s a huge challenge.
“He’s made the switch look easy and it’s not easy.”
Appell said positioning and anticipation are the biggest keys.
“The biggest thing is making sure you know exactly where you’re supposed to be,” he said. “If you’re in a good position, you don’t have to chase the puck around. You’re always in a good spot and from there, you can take your chances moving the puck up the ice and generating some offense.”