By Brandon M. Bickerstaff
The Sun Herald
BILOXI, Miss. – When Mike Jarmuth signed with the Mississippi Sea Wolves in the offseason, he was expected to be a role player supplementing the defense.
Since then, the rookie blueliner has established himself as one of the league’s top goal-scoring defensemen. His 10 goals rank him first among ECHL blueliners in the category, tied with last year’s ECHL defenseman of the year, Pensacola’s Cory Neilson. He is also second among the league’s defensemen in shooting percentage, as 11.4 percent of his shots have found their way into the net.
After finishing his collegiate career with Western Michigan University and attending the training camp for the American Hockey League’s Rochester Americans, Jarmuth planned to turn heads upon his arrival in Mississippi. But the Monkton, Ontario, native could never have dreamed up a rookie campaign quite like this.
“I didn’t expect to have this many goals at all,” Jarmuth said. “I just seem to be getting the bounces, being in the right spot at the right time, and it’s been working out for me. The team’s been playing a lot better lately, too.”
Jarmuth’s reputation among the Sea Wolves’ coaching staff preceded him. Three of his Western Michigan teammates – Austin Miller, Pat O’Leary and Lucas Drake – all gave Jarmuth a vote of confidence when asked by Sea Wolves coach and general manager Bob Woods.
Woods, a former Sea Wolves defenseman, said he noticed Jarmuth’s potential early, though some questions still remained about how the 22-year-old would adjust to the professional game. Those questions have been answered.
“He was a question mark heading into camp,” Woods said. “I had heard good things about him. He’s a kid who’s always on an even keel. He doesn’t get too excited out there, and he has a good head on his shoulders. As a defenseman, that’s very important.”
Jarmuth said his offensive prowess has proven to be his biggest asset in his young career.
“I’d say my biggest strength is my offensive ability, being able to join the rush,” he said. “You can never be too good on defense, so I definitely want to improve on that.”
Woods said consistency was an area Jarmuth needed to improve earlier in the season. His pupil has responded, contributing nine points (5 goals, 4 assists) over a six-game stretch, including goals in four consecutive outings.
Jarmuth said the encouragement from his coaches has helped him get more comfortable on the ice.
“They encourage me to skate the puck up more, join in the rush,” and get involved with the offense. “I’ve just been coming out of my shell toward the second half of the season.”
Jarmuth’s recent scoring binge has drawn comparisons to Jim Baxter, another former Sea Wolves blueliner with a propensity for scoring. Woods said Jarmuth’s development has been a pleasure to watch.
“I don’t know if he’s got the experience (of Baxter), but he definitely has the talent,” he said. “Any time he’s on the ice, he makes something happen. He’s a great skater, he’s got very good hockey sense and anticipation. He just has to get better with situational stuff, not putting himself in bad situations, reading the play better. He’s a fun player to watch and a fun player to coach.”