Prep boys hockey: Trojans hope teamwork helps
WORTHINGTON — Getting better together is the only true way a team will succeed, and the Worthington boys hockey team hopes to embrace that as the puck drops on its season Thursday night in Mankato.
The Trojans come into their 2013-14 campaign from a 4-16 effort a year ago. They bested Fairmont in the first round of last year’s section tournament before a loss to Luverne in the second round.
The team is faced with replacing several key pieces due to graduation, including a starting goaltender in Rylan Scholtes and two captains in Levi Leach and Jacob Molden.
“I do feel we have some capable kids who are up to the challenge of stepping into those roles,” Worthington boys hockey coach Nate Grimmius said. “Across the board we have gaps to fill. I do think that through the kids we have coming up from bantams and the kids we have coming back we should be able to fill those roles.”
Returning to the ice for Worthington are three seniors in goaltender Alex Purdy, center Kody Honius and defenseman Zach Heidebrink. Andrew Johnson adds to that trio. Coming back for his junior season at forward, Johnson put up a second-best 21 points on last year’s team. Honius had eight last year.
“I think we can be really good this year,” Honius said as he prepares for his final year wearing the WHS black-and-red. “If we have good attitudes, support each other and play our hardest all the time I think we can do well.”
Scholtes faced 602 shots in net last year and saved 512. Purdy goaltended four games for the Trojans as a junior, finishing with an 0-2 record with 71 saves.
“I hope I can help out the team defensively and keep as many shots out of the net as I can,” Purdy said of his first real starting job on varsity. “On the same token I hope we can score a few goals to make my job easier. Hopefully we all work hard and do our jobs.”
The Trojans would like to play efficiently this season with what they have and stay out of the penalty box. The team is made up of just 11 skaters and a pair of goalies.
“We just want to play as a team. It’s not an individual sport and it takes an entire team to be successful,” Grimmius reiterated. “With the way we’ve started practice I have already seen that camaraderie. Hopefully that continues.”
Play in the defensive zone will be an emphasis for Worthington after the team surrendered double-digit goals on three different occasions last winter. The team has goal scorers returning along with a goalie, so the next steps will be to become tougher and increasingly sound defensively.
“We struggled a little last year with puck possession and weren’t very strong in our own defensive zone,” Grimmius said. “Those are the areas we need to pick up on. We all know that as a team and we’re working hard to improve that.”
The Trojans begin their season at Mankato East Thursday night. The Scarlets outlasted Worthington last season 4-3 on a late-game goal.
“Mankato East has always been a fairly strong team. Last year we played them tough and it came down to the last period where they ended up beating us,” Grimmius said. “In that game, we went to the penalty box too many times and it ended up costing us.”
Clear goals the team would like to achieve have been set, Heidebrink indicated. Now is the time to put it all together.
“I hope that this year we can stay together as a team and win some hockey games,” Heidebrink said. “We’re hoping to work hard in practice and support each other on the ice, always having each other’s back.”
Here’s a brief preview of other area teams:
Windom Area enters its campaign following a 2012-13 tour where the Eagles finished 13-9.
Windom finished off an up-and-down effort last winter, suffering key injuries along the way that hampered what the team could have accomplished. Worthy of note as this season approaches, Windom Area brings back senior forward Zach Bartosch and sophomore forward Derek Nielsen. The pair scored 21 goals each last year. Bartosh had a hand in 45 points for the blue-and-gold.
Three defensemen come back for the Eagles from last year including Dylan Pigman, Alex Leopold and Andrew Hirsch. Six letterwinners return for another go-round.
Windom Area starts its season Tuesday at Redwood Valley under the direction of new coach Tim Mellstrom.
“I think we’ve had some high-tempo practices. The kids are working hard and are competing. We have a lot of open spots,” Mellstrom said. “What I expect is exactly what I’ve seen in practice this year. Our kids are coming to practice and are working hard.
“There are skills that we will have to put together but the bottom line is that we are going to have to outwork other teams every day in order to be successful,” Mellstrom continued. “I’ve seen that mentality in practice and that is one thing that we will have to hang on to. We can’t afford to get outworked.”
An experienced Luverne Cardinals boys hockey team finished ever so close to a run to St. Paul for the Class A state hockey tournament a year ago. Marshall ended Luverne’s dream with a 5-3 setback at Gustavus Adolphus College. It was the Cards’ second loss on the season to the Tigers.
Even through it all, last year’s Cardinals team earned the school its first ever No. 1 seed in the section tournament. Last year’s 22 wins also served as a school record. The team finished 22-4-1.
Derrick Brown, in his fifth season with Luverne, has a coaching record of 71-29-4. He reported this week that preseason practice has gone well. The Cardinals bring 17 letter winners back for another season. Two leaders to watch from that group will be sophomore Chaz Smedsrud and junior Toby Sengvongxay.
“We did do some pretty neat things last year,” Brown said. “We have a good core of seniors and underclassmen from those groups who should be productive members for our team.”
Also key will be the Cardinals’ dozen seniors who are out this season. The program has won 20 games in back-to-back years and hopes to continue its run of success in this area of the state. The season starts for Luverne at home Nov. 29 against St. Peter/LeSueur-Henderson.
“Our seniors are great leaders and have brought a winning culture to our program,” Brown said. “We are hoping we can take our disappointments and our successes from last year and build off of that. Hopefully we’ll be playing in Gustavus in February and will see what we can do at that point.”