When the Quad-City Mallards' season began in October, rookie Jeremy Boyer looked nothing like the scorer he was in the junior leagues.
In his final season in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, Boyer scored 42 goals in 50 games, yet he managed just two markers in his first 19 games in the Quad-Cities. Instead of a sniper, the rookie was an afterthought in the Mallards' stable of weapons.
Those days are over.
Although he slumped at the end of the month, Boyer emerged as a solid option during January, putting five goals in for the Mallards and displaying a level of confidence that he can be a contributor as the team pushes toward the playoffs.
What caused the progression? The rookie from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is convinced it came from small tweaks to bring his game up to speed.
"I'd say I was playing really defensively (early), and I just need to play straight-line hockey," Boyer said. "The little things have all contributed to better things to come. I seem more relaxed when I'm on the ice and my head's up, not buried in my feet."
While Boyer was going through his growing pains, Mallards coach David Bell never lost faith in him. He knew that Boyer possessed a scoring touch against good players from his days in juniors, and that isn't something that goes away at the professional level.
"It's a confidence thing with a kid like that," Bell said. "He's been playing against 15-to-20-year-old kids, so that's a big adjustment from playing against boys to playing against men.
"With goal scorers, a big part of their game is confidence. I don't think he had confidence at the start of the year, he was overwhelmed. Now he's settled in and getting confidence, and it's starting to show in his play."
As the calendar turned to January, Boyer's improvements became evident. After being a healthy scratch in the Mallards' first game of the month against Evansville, a motivated Boyer lit the lamp twice on Jan. 6 against Wichita, playing with a renewed hunger and belief in himself.
Against Dayton a week later, Boyer had his second multi-goal game and finished with four points, a career high.
Boyer admits his progression didn't happen overnight.
"It was a long process with confidence going out there," Boyer said. "Everyone here is a lot stronger and the game is a lot faster, so it was a big adjustment."
The best example of how far Boyer has come with his confidence came in the Mallards' Jan. 8 game against Missouri. Late in the game, Boyer came in on a power play with veteran John Snowden on his left with an open lane.
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The safe play would have been to pass to Snowden, a scorer with 200-plus goals to his name. Boyer never hesitated.
He took aim and fired, hitting the back of the mesh and bringing the red light on with the goal.
Looking back on it, Boyer doesn't think the play was that much of a display of his confidence, but his certainty that something good was going to happen tells a different story.
"Really, I was just keeping it low to that one side," Boyer said. "Even if I was going to hit the goalie, it's going to be a rebound there (for Snowden)."
Snowden, one of the veterans that Boyer credits with helping him make the transition in his rookie season, was thrilled to see Boyer step up and shoot.
He remembers being that young kid himself, and he's very familiar with what the confidence of seeing success and knowing your teammates believe in you can do for a young player's career.
"JB started out fresh, but he's getting better every single day," Snowden said. "It's good to see a young kid like that doing so well. He's a great player with a good skill set.
"He just needed the opportunity to get some confidence in him and soak the game in at this level. I couldn't be happier for him, and it couldn't happen to a better kid either."