By Leif Skodnick
Special To ECHL.com
When Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies head coach Matt Thomas was recruiting players this past summer for 2004-05, he knew what he needed.
After losing Jon Cullen and Stefan Rivard, who combined for 55 goals and 143 points in 2003-04, Thomas’ squad needed players who could put the puck in the net.
Enter Derek Edwardson, a forward who had just finished his senior season at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he finished tied for 10th in the nation in scoring with 48 points (17g-31a) in 41 games.
“We lost so much scoring out of that core group,” said Thomas, who took the Bullies reins from Mike Haviland over the summer. “I had never seen him play, but a lot of people I talked to said great things about him.”
Hearing great things about Edwardson wasn’t difficult last season. A nominee for the 2004 Hobey Baker Memorial Award, presented annually to the most outstanding player in college hockey, Edwardson’s candidacy was plugged on a website bearing his name that was set up by Miami’s Sports Information Department.
“I needed a legitimate guy that could score and produce,” Thomas stated. “I didn’t think I was going to get him, but with the NHL lockout he maybe slipped through the cracks.”
In Atlantic City, it will be difficult for Edwardson to be missed.
“He wants to get to the American Hockey League,” Thomas said. “We have proximity to a lot of teams, and he’ll definitely get looked at here.”
Edwardson is pleased to be in Atlantic City.
“I was talking with a bunch of [ECHL] teams, and this seemed like a good fit,” said Edwardson. “We went with it, and here I am.”
The Jersey Shore, however, is certainly different from Southern Ohio.
“Not having to go to class is great,” jokes Edwardson, who majored in exercise science. “But the co-ed population was definitely a little bit better in Oxford.”
“The guys [in the ECHL] are a little bigger and a little stronger,” noted Edwardson, who stands 5-10 and weighs 180 pounds. “All in all, it figures out, it’s not that much tougher size-wise.”
The former RedHawks captain is off to a hot start in Atlantic City, having scored 26 points (12g-14a) in his first 22 games. Edwardson leads all rookies in scoring, plus-minus rating (+12), power-play assists (7) and power-play points (9) while ranking second in goals and tied for second in assists. He ranks third overall in scoring, goals and plus-minus rating (+12).
“Our line is playing well together right now,” said Edwardson, who regularly is on a line with Jason Notermann and ECHL scoring leader Luke Curtin. “We kind of jumped right into it, and the team’s counting on us to get the points.”
Thomas likes what he sees from Edwardson so far.
“One of the things we talked about was consistency, and he’s been doing that,” said the rookie head coach. “When you’re a little guy, you have to produce, and if he wants to get to the American League, they’ll want a guy that can produce when he gets there.
“If he can keep going at the rate he’s going, someone is going to give him a look.”
Despite flashy numbers, Edwardson is keeping his goals modest.
“I just want to go out there and do what I do,” said Edwardson, who earned the CCM Vector Rookie of the Month award for November. “I want to score points and make plays, and whatever happens, happens.”His coach feels that that is a good approach.
“Consistency is the key to the pro game, coming out every night and being able to produce,” said Thomas. “I don’t set too many goals and I don’t want him to set too many goals. I don’t want him to set goals like ‘I have to get up to the American League once by Christmas’, because that just puts too much pressure on him.
“If he goes out, plays his game and produces for the team each and every night, he’s going to find himself in a good spot at the end of his first year as a professional.”