Little Giant

Throughout the month of August, BismarckBobcats.com will be taking a one-by-one look at the players on the Bobcats’ Training Camp Roster. Today’s installment covers Bobcats third-year veteran blueliner, Dan Kovar.

Name: Dan Kovar
Position: Defenseman
Hometown: Bismarck, ND
2011-12 Team: Bismarck Bobcats
2011-12 Stats: 2 G, 6 A, 8 PTS, +9, 17 PIM
Favorite Movie: The Green Mile
Favorite Book: Animal Farm by George Orwell
Highlight of 2011-12: “Connecting with Adam Knochenmus on the slap-pass to tie Game Four of the Division Finals at Austin.”

Open for Business

For the majority of NAHL teams, the opening day roster comes from a team’s protected list, comprising returning veterans, tender signees and draft picks. For players who do not fall into any of those three categories the opportunity still exists to make a team through open camps.

In 2010, Dan Kovar was just such a player; unsigned and undrafted after his junior year of hockey at Century High School (he attended St. Mary’s Central, which does not field a hockey team).

“Playing in North Dakota high school hockey, sometimes it can be tough to get on scouts’ radar because there aren’t as many teams as a place like Minnesota and what teams we do have are spread out pretty far,” explained Kovar, who took his first shot at becoming a Bobcat at the team’s 2010 Pre-Draft Camp in Prior Lake, Minn. “So when I did get a chance to play in front of junior coaches and scouts I did everything I could to get their attention.”

His play in Prior Lake earned him an invitation to 2010 Main Camp at the VFW Sports Center, where his rugged physical play merited a spot on the training camp roster.

“Danny probably dropped the gloves 12 times between Pre-Draft and Main Camps that year,” recalled Bobcats head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie, who had recently taken over behind the bench early in the 2010 offseason, “so I guess you can say he definitely knew how to take advantage of a small window to put himself on the map.”

Though Kovar wound up losing over half the season to a shoulder injury in 2010-11, he would bounce back to be a blue line regular for the record-breaking 2011-12 squad. The Bismarck native stepped up his game in the playoffs, earning power play time and providing two of the nicest assists of the postseason on goals by Tyler Richter and Adam Knochenmus.

Now Kovar is back as a third-year veteran set to anchor the Bobcat blue line.

“There’s no doubt and no question that Dan Kovar is one of the real success stories of our open camps,” added Sedevie.

Heads Up!

You’d never know it by looking at him, but Kovar—who stands at just 5’9” and weighs 165 lbs.—is one of the hardest open-ice hitters in the Central Division and the NAHL at large.

“Some of the biggest cheers I’ve heard at the VFW Sports Center in my three-plus years with Bobcat Hockey have come from Dan Kovar leveling a bigger player at center ice,” credited Sedevie, “and it happens a lot.”

There are a couple of theories as to what makes Kovar such a terror in open ice. His own personal theory is a combination of knowing his enemy and the element of surprise.

“Growing up, I played forward, so I know a lot of tendencies that forwards have,” Kovar pointed out, “so I’m able to get myself in a good position to get a good hit on a guy. That and I’m obviously a smaller guy, so a lot of times they don’t expect me to step up and put a shoulder into them like that, so it catches them off guard.”

Others agree that past sports experience aids Kovar’s hitting—just not the sport that’s on the ice.

“Danny was a pretty good football player for a couple years at St. Mary’s before committing to hockey full-time when he became a Bobcat,” noted Sedevie, “and I think his background in football gives him the mental knowledge and the muscle memory to be able to put a nice pop on somebody with their head down coming over the middle.”

There were no signs of Kovar slowing down his physical game for the upcoming season, either, as the former Patriot icer and Saint footballer opened 2012 by flattening an opposing forward and continued to stir the crowd on hand with big hits all weekend long.

Hometown Bond

One of Kovar’s highlights from his first two years with the Bobcats has been playing with other local products like Tyler Richter, Grant Mindt, Aaron Nelson and Nick Romanick.

“There are a lot of guys from out of town that come in to be Bobcats and it’s really great to see guys from all over buying in, but it’s been cool to have local guys around that you can relate to,” expressed Kovar, “because these are guys that I’ve played with for a long time, we grew up together, we had the same coaches.”

Despite some of the hometown camaraderie, sometimes rivalries broke down across the lines of Bismarck High and Century High, especially in 2011-12 when Kovar played alongside former CHS teammate Nelson.

“Even though the BHS-CHS rivalry is pretty intense while you’re in it, we had some fun with it in the locker room,” Kovar said, “because Richter and Mindt would make fun of Nelson and I because CHS has never played in the State Finals, and Nelly and I would give it right back to them, telling them they were always choking when they got there.”

In 2012-13, however, Kovar will find himself in the strange position of being the only Bismarck native on the roster after spending two seasons among at least three other lifers from the Capital City.

Despite the Bismarck-Century rivalry holding less sway in the Bobcats’ 2012-13 locker room, with three other North Dakotans on the roster—Grand Forks’ Jeremy O’Keefe and Bryan Nies and Grafton’s Ryan Callahan—Kovar thinks there will still be some state high school barbs being tossed around.

“Really, the biggest in-state rivalry in our locker room is always ‘East vs. West’ anyway,” jabbed Kovar, now the lone WDA representative on the Cats’ roster, “so we’re going to have a lot of fun with that this year with a lot of the East guys coming back.

“But that’s what it is: fun. We’re all on the same side now and our goal is to bring the Robertson Cup back to Bismarck.”

Stay tuned to BismarckBobcats.com over the next month as we take you in-depth with every player on the Training Camp Roster in preparation for the 2012-13 season. This week, we will also feature Shane Omdahl and Jeremy O’Keefe.