For those wondering whether or not the University of Mary’s men’s hockey team can put together another season similar to their inaugural campaign of last year, just read between the lines: the front line, the blue line and the goal line.
Then the answer becomes clear: Yes. Probably.
“We’re going to be really good. It’s going to be an exciting year,” coach Dan Huntley said.
The Marauders open their second season this weekend with games on Saturday and Sunday against North Dakota State at Starion Sports Complex in Mandan. U-Mary began last season with 15 straight wins. There’s more at stake this season, as the Marauders are eligible for the postseason.
“There’s a difference in what our goals are. That’s one that we weren’t able to fulfill last year, which was going to a national tournament,” Huntley said. “Now we’re playing for an opportunity to be the best.”
Tournament or not last season, U-Mary was one of the best. The 39-6-2 record had storybook written all over it and the only thing it didn’t have was an ending of any kind. As a first-year program, the Marauders weren’t eligible for the postseason. But they are now.
“Everybody that was here last year knows this was a two-year process,” said sophomore defenseman Marshall Tschida, a first-team ACHA All-West Region performer who tied for the team lead in scoring (13 goals, 43 assists, 56 points). “The guys are more excited this year because there is an end result. Last year we just kind of played, because we couldn’t make the playoffs. We’re just going to do what we can to try to recapture that excitement.”
Tschida is one-sixth of a corps of defensemen that will be expected to score and defend.
“Our defensive corps are really good,” Huntley said.
Tschida will be paired again with sophomore Drew Lenertz (6-28--34).
Senior Jonathon Sundell (4-10--14) and sophomore Andrew Heckaman (6-13--19) will start out together and the third blue-line tandem will be freshman and three-year Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League veteran Johnny Witzke and junior Dalton Johnson (12-27--39), a transfer from Williston State. Witzke had 31 goals and 91 assists in 200 games over three years in the SJHL.
“Dalton and Johnny will be dynamic,” Huntley said. “Our top six guys are really good. They’re smart enough to know when to join the rush and when it’s time to play defense.”
The defense, meanwhile, will start with senior goalie Lance Knudson, who will battle it out with freshman NA3HL veteran Kyle Hayden for the No. 1 spot in net.
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Knudson proved himself last season by going 18-0-0 with five shutouts and a 1.59 goals-against average and .937 save percentage. Hayden appeared in 26 games for the Alexandria Blizzard and had a 2.45 goals against average and .916 save percentage.
“It was pretty impressive to see what he did. Kyle gives us a great chance to win,” Huntley said.
With sound defense behind them, U-Mary’s forwards were able to focus mostly on putting points on the board.
“It all starts with our goalie, so we have no worries in net and then our D corps is solid for six guys,” sophomore forward Alex Flicek said. “That’s a great option to not have to worry about playing defense so we can attack and not worry about the back end.”
Flicek (36-20--56) shared the scoring lead with Tschida last season.
“A lot of the guys will expect me to be scoring goals but there are a lot of guys who also can score,” Flicek said.
Huntley’s tentative first line will include senior Zach Garrett (19-35--54), sophomore Andy Huber (29-13--42) and sophomore Cyril Nagurski (6-3--9), who was converted from defense to forward this season.
Freshman Mathew Jahnke is expected to contribute a lot after spending last year with Coulee Region Chill and Great Falls Americans of the NA3HL. Between the two, Jahnke had 34 goals and 49 assists in 54 games.
Senior Josh Colleaux finished last season with 14 goals and 15 assists.
With all that firepower and defense, Huntley is anxious to see how U-Mary stacks up as a new member of the Mountain West Collegiate Hockey League.
“We’ll go into the Mountain West Collegiate Hockey Conference tournament February 6-8 in Provo (Utah) and we’ll challenge ourselves with an opportunity to win a conference tournament,” Huntley said.
Meanwhile, a top two finish in the ACHA West Region will result in an automatic playoff bid. The next 10 teams in the standings will play off for the remaining two spots in the finals.
“That gives guys hope that at the end of the year we’re going to be in the playoffs and competing for a championship,” Flicek said.