Giant Killer

Know Your Bobcat – Dan Kovar

Throughout the months of August and September, BismarckBobcats.com will be taking a one-by-one look at the players on the Bobcats’ Training Camp Roster. Today’s installment covers fourth-year blueliner and St. Mary’s Central alum Dan Kovar.

Name: Dan Kovar

Position: Defenseman

Hometown: Bismarck, ND

2012-13 Team: Bismarck Bobcats

2012-13 Stats: 50 GP, 3 G,9 A, 12 PTS, +2, 66 PIM

Favorite Movie: The Shawshank Redemption

Favorite Athlete: Tiger Woods

Highlight of 2012-13: “Our two-week trip to California and Washington was something we hadn’t done in my time with the team and it was a great time and worked wonders for team bonding.”

Four More Years

Bismarck Bobcats defenseman Dan Kovar is set to undertake his fourth season in the North American Hockey League, all in his hometown of Bismarck with the Bobcats. He comes into 2013-14 with 119 games played—including one as an emergency goalie in 2010—just 53 shy of the all-time franchise record held by Bobcat legend Matt Paluczak.

Kovar started out with the Bobcats in 2010 during his senior year at St. Mary’s Central High School in Bismarck, having made the squad out of Main Camp in August.

Getting to the junior level was a rude awakening for the former Saint, who played his high school hockey with nearby Century High.

“I came out of high school and my first experience with the team was ‘Hell Week,’” recalled Kovar of the Bobcats’ famous opening week of off-ice training, “and I was shell-shocked. Then from there you run right into preseason games and then the Showcase; it’s a lot to take in when you’re 17.”

In his time in black and gold, Kovar has seen some wild rides, including the Cats’ Cinderella postseason run as a four-seed in 2011, the record-setting 2011-12 regular season and the heartbreak of missing the 2013 Robertson Cup Finals on tiebreakers.

The team’s overall success in his time with the Cats is keeping Kovar motivated for his final junior season.

“My passion bucket is pretty full to get back out there in September,” stated Kovar, who turned 20 in January. “I’ve already seen three Central Cups come through here and I want it to be four by the time May [2014] rolls around. I don’t want to see that trophy in Aberdeen or Austin or anywhere else. Ever.”

Paradigm Shift

During his three seasons with the Patriots, Kovar was known as a playmaker on the blue line, notching 29 goals and 60 assists in 79 games for CHS.

But once he traded in his powder blue & red for black & gold, Kovar knew he was going to have to change his mentality.

“In high school I was all about offense,” conceded the Bismarck native, who turned heads with 15 goals as a freshman in 2007-08, “but then I get here and see huge guys on the back end like Nick Romanick, Charlie Aus and Tommy Rizzardo; at that point I know there’s not a lot of room on a junior roster for a 5’9”, 150 pound offensive defenseman. I knew if I wanted to keep my spot, I had to play defense.”

The need to adapt in the junior game is certainly not new to players coming out of high school, least of all North Dakota high school players: just one season earlier, Minot High’s Bryce Schmitt joined the Bobcats after a 47-point season with the Magicians that earned him All-State Tournament, All-Region and All-State honors as a junior. Instead of trying to force his way onto the scoresheet, however, Schmitt adapted to the role of a grinder, helping pave the way to a Robertson Cup in his rookie season and an eventual D-I spot with Lake Superior State University in 2012.

“Players like Bryce and Dan have that intelligence and coachability that you don’t see that often anymore,” credited Bobcats head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie. “Guys don’t want to fill a role, and that can be disappointing; you can’t win if you don’t have a team of guys playing the right roles. But when you get the right guys who want to play the right roles, it makes all the difference to a coach.”

To Kovar, it all comes down to mentality.

“I think you have to be gritty, and I don’t mean physically,” explained the veteran defender. “You have to be gritty mentally. You have to say to yourself: ‘This isn’t what I’m used to, but it’s the role the team needs from me to succeed and I have to put the work in to do it right.’

“It’s even more exciting now because as a leader on this team I can go to young guys who are struggling and help them get the right mindset and help them be the right player for Bobcat Hockey.”

Letterman

People who know Dan Kovar know that he is more than a hockey player, he’s an athlete. In addition to playing hockey for Century, he lettered in football with St. Mary’s Central and currently carries a six handicap in golf.

“Playing other sports for me is a way to keep my mind sharp and learn different techniques that I can bring back with me to hockey,” details Kovar. “More and more you see guys focusing in on one sport because they think they’re falling behind, but to me all the other sports I’ve played competitively have made me a more complete hockey player.”

Over his time with the Bobcats, the 5’9” blueliner has become known for his bone-crunching open-ice hits, particularly against larger opponents.

Naturally, Kovar says he gleaned that ability from the gridiron.

“Tackling in football is less about size than it is about technique; it’s the same way in hockey. If I hit a guy who’s 6’4” the right way, it doesn’t matter that he’s got seven inches on me: he’s going to fall down. “

But what about golf? How does a peaceful, non-contact sport inform the style of a hard-hitting defender in a grueling game like hockey? Look no further than Kovar’s series-changing shorthanded goal in Game Two of the 2013 Central Division Finals at Austin.

With two and a half minutes left in regulation and the Bobcats on the penalty kill while clinging to a razor-thin 3-2 lead at Riverside Arena and trailing the best-of-five series 1-0, Kovar found himself alone with the puck inside his own blue line, awaiting the Bruins’ rush.

“I was wasting clock, saw Jay Dickman coming at me and thought, ‘I better get rid of this early, I don’t want this big guy blocking anything,” recalled Kovar of Austin’s 6’6” power forward.

So the 165-pound defender leaned into a slap shot that climbed about 15 feet into the air before cutting hard, down and to the left, fooling Bruins goalie Jason Pawloski and stretching the lead to 4-2.

“He put a pro-fade on it, just like the pro golfers do,” marveled Sedevie.

The Cats would go on to win Game Two 5-2 and then the next two games to claim the Central Cup.

“More and more you see guys focusing in on one sport because they think they’re falling behind,” opined Kovar, “but to me all the other sports I’ve played competitively have made me a more complete hockey player.”

Stay tuned to BismarckBobcats.com over the next month-plus as we take you in-depth with every player on the Training Camp Roster in preparation for the 2013-14 season. This week, we will also feature Dan Kovar, Filip Starzynski, Seth Blair, Ryan Callahan and Stanislav Dzakhov.