Year 1 for the University of Mary hockey team will be busy. Really busy.
Featuring a North Dakota-heavy roster, the Marauders will play 47 games in six different states in their debut campaign at the ACHA Division II level. That's about 20-to-25 more games than most NCAA Division III teams and club squads.
For head coach Dan Huntley, it's what happens when a plan comes together.
"It shows the support we have from our university -- the athletic director, the SID, fundraisers, development, compliance -- it's put us in a really good position for success," Huntley said. "We put in a lot of work trying to build the program the right way."
Training camp began almost a month ago and the Marauders are ready for a game. They'll get two this weekend, hosting NDSU's club team on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2. All U-Mary home games will be played at the Starion Sports Complex in Mandan.
The Marauders' roster features 16 players from North Dakota. That was not originally the plan, but when U-Mary was denied entry into ACHA Division I, Huntley had to pivot.
"To be honest I didn't initially think it'd be so heavily North Dakota, maybe it'd be more Canadian like Minot and Jamestown," Huntley said. "Not being accepted for Division I membership was somewhat of a detriment. In conversations you'd hear, 'Well, you're not going Division I.' So if there were kids that were looking for Division I at places like Iowa State, Minot, Jamestown, Colorado, UNLV, Arizona State, we might have lost out on kids and that was frustrating at times."
Going ACHA Division I remains a possibility at some point but Huntley is happy with how things worked out. There are no athletic scholarships at the ACHA level.
"The players we have really want to be here. They want to be a part of building something and that's exciting," Huntley said. "We're going to put a good product on the ice. I'm confident in that."
It starts in goal where the Marauders have a NCAA D-I player between the pipes. Former Century High standout Aaron Nelson, who also played in the NAHL for the Bismarck Bobcats, uses his final season of eligibility in his hometown. A 25-year-old veteran, Nelson spent four seasons at WCHA power Minnesota State-Mankato. The Marauders' roster has five players 24 or older.
Behind Nelson is Lance Knudson, a junior from Crosby, N.D., with two years of D-III experience at Hamline University.
"We haven't been scoring much in practice but that's because our goaltenders are so good," Huntley said. "To have a guy like Aaron Nelson back there, that is not a luxury many first-year hockey programs have. We're very happy to have him and Lance."
Drew Lenertz, a freshman from Bismarck High, and Marshall Tschida are the top pair of defensemen and will get a ton of ice time because Huntley, "loves them."
Zach Garrett, the second-leading scorer for Dakota College-Bottineau the past two seasons, is the Marauders' captain. He'll be joined on the first line by Andrew Huber of Bismarck and Californian Ben Kottmeier.
Kyler Moore, P.J. Silveria and Alex Flicek make up the second line. Silveria and Nelson are assistant captains. Huntley believes Flicek has the potential to set the bar for scoring if he stays all four years.
Josh Colleaux and Bismarck products Jakob Parisien and Bryce Eckman start on the third line, while Mandan's Alex Horner centers the fourth line with Logan Kraft and Peter Pavek on the wings.
As a first-year team, the Marauders cannot qualify for the playoffs, but with a challenging schedule and games in Idaho, Florida, Utah, Montana and Colorado, there's plenty to play for.
"It's been unique because for this team we'd never been together. So we're trying to figure it out. Who goes where, who plays with you, that feeling out process has been interesting," Huntley said. "With the schedule we have, with the support from the institution, with the facilities and with the group of kids we have, I'm really optimistic about the future of the program."