Last season, Century and Bismarck High pulled way ahead of the pack in the West Region hockey standings.
When the season was over, the Demons (40) and Patriots (38) combined for 78 points. The other seven teams in the league accounted for just 90 altogether.
Troy Olson, head coach of Century, doesn't see it playing out that way this winter.
"I think the complexion is really going to change this year," said Olson, who led the Patriots to a 22-3-1 mark last year and third-place finish at state. "I think top to bottom it's going to be a little tighter. There's going to be a lot more parity and a lot of close games."
Century and Bismarck get their seasons started this weekend with a pair of non-conference games on Friday and Saturday against Fargo North and West Fargo. The back-to-back doubleheaders start at 5 p.m. on Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday at the VFW Sports Center. Century plays the first game each day.
The Patriots' plan of attack may look a little different this season. Last year, Century sent waves of scorers out onto the ice, piling up 142 goals, 103 more than their opponents.
They return 13 players who scored goals, but only Connor Hanson (11) and Colton Schulte (10) had double figures.
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"It's probably going to be more by committee this year," Olson said. "We've had a couple injuries, and that's a weird way to start the season, but it gives other kids the opportunity to step up. Those kids need to play hard and give us a look."
There's still plenty of firepower returning, on paper.
Jadon Reimer had nine goals last season. Austin Wald, Carter Schoeneberg and Alex Samardzic had eight each. Cullen Curl had six.
"We lost seven seniors that had a pretty big impact on our team," Olson said. "We like the group we have. The question mark is how long will it take for some of our older kids to step into leadership roles. That's one of the neat things about high school sports. From year to year you have new challenges your team has to meet."
Century will count on a deep stable of goalies, led by junior Holden Ubl and senior Wyatt Stevahn, particularly in the early going. Luke Pengilly, Kaden Jangula and Casey Odegaard also could press for time between the pipes.
The D-corps has proven commodities returning in Hanson, Logan Fridgen and Reimers.
"We're going to build the team from the net out and learn to play some good defense," Olson said.
Schulte, Wald and Damon Dixon, a key cog in the state champion Century football team, all are dealing with early-season injuries.
"We'll need to develop some depth as we go along. That's where it's nice to have these two games to kind of put a lot of different kids in situations and see how they react," Olson said. "It's exciting to get the season started. The kids have been working hard and they're ready to get out there and see what they can do."
Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or email@example.com