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Trojans bring more players — and talent — to this year’s boys hockey roster

Seniors looking to lead the Worthington High School boys hockey team to victories this winter are (front row, from left) Carter Ponto, Karter Honius, Anthony Fogelman, (back) Eric Heidebrink, Andrew Olsen and Alberto Schettini. (Doug Wolter/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — The Worthington boys hockey team has numbers this year.

And according to head coach Paul Olsen, that’s going to make a big difference in a lot of ways.

“I think it’s the excitement of having a full team,” Olsen said. “I think the guys are all excited about the fact that we have the numbers and we have the talent this year, so let’s go after it. There’s no more excuses of, ‘We didn’t have enough guys or we were really tired.’”

The Trojans have a roster dominated by upperclassmen with a strong complement of younger players.

“The main thing with numbers is you can’t cut a corner anymore because there’s a guy who wants your ice time,” assistant coach Tyler Neinkerk said. “That’s the thing with numbers — it doesn’t make you good all of a sudden, but it drives a competitiveness in practice. That’s what makes you better.”

Because WHS will have more players seeing ice time, the hope is to use that to become more aggressive.

“The goal is that every line that goes out there is going out there 100 percent because they just got a nice rest. Everything is 100 miles per hour and they are attacking,” Neinkerk said. “I played for Coach Olsen when I played, he knows I’m a fiery guy. I want to attack. That’s my main thing, I want to attack, attack, attack. That’s how it was in bantams, no matter what, we are going at all times. That’s what I’ll try to instill on my end of it, and what I’ll bring to it is we’re going to try to bring a little more of that killer instinct.”

The Trojans have six seniors on this year’s roster with six more juniors.

“We have a lot of experience from last year. We only lost one player. The rest of the guys are returning and then we’ve got the bantams that moved up,” Olsen said. “Not only do you have that, but you have leadership. When you have a group that’s heavy on juniors and seniors and they start to realize this is their time.”

Carter Ponto and Preston Thavixay are the two goalies listed on the roster for the Trojans. Defensively, Eric Heidebrink, Lance Hibma, Bryce Olsen and Davis Moore return.

Offensively, WHS is looking toward Karter Honius, Tommy Bauman, Ryan Newman, Colby Nickel and Anthony Fogelman to be impact players.

Coach Olsen said because of the bigger roster, the Trojans will have the freedom to skate harder, knowing there will be a rest coming.

“Before we had to play so defensive because we didn’t have the numbers to be offensive and now we do,” Olsen said. “We have to just attack. We can’t play the waiting game anymore.”

With the experience-laden roster, Coach Olsen is looking for his team to be competitive each and every game.

“Our first one is that we have never placed anything but last since they came up with the Big South Conference — we want to get out of that cellar,” he said. “We want to not be the last team so we always have to go play the toughest teams in the sections. We want to be putting things together so if we make mistakes one game, we don’t make them the next.”

Windom Area

The Windom Area Eagles are hoping to be a team on the rise this year.

With a solid core returning and a young nucleus, head coach Jason Espenson is hoping the team improves as the season progresses.

“I think we will be a team that is on the rise in our conference,” Espenson said. “We have to put all this pieces together and get them to work, but I feel we at least have the pieces to work with. I feel we will be a tough team to play come February.”

Espenson points to Ethan Becker, Wyatt Schumacher, Josiah Quintero, Kyle Espenson and Tylan Porath as some of the top returning players.

“Ethan Becker will anchor our defense and is a big strong kid who can play at both ends of the ice,” the coach said. “Wyatt Schumacher is a hard-working, gritty forward that will be a hard player for the opponents defenseman to deal with. Kyle Espenson is the top returning scorer from last year as a freshman, so expect big things from him this year. Josiah is coming back in net and had an outstanding summer for hockey, so we’re expecting big things from him as well.”

However, to compete in the conference, Jason Espenson said the team needs to avoid penalties and learn to play a faster paced game.

This is a young group of kids that has some outstanding key leaders returning at each position, and it should be fun to see them mature and come together.

Luverne

With a large group returning from last year’s state tournament team, Luverne head coach Phillip Paquette said his team realizes there may be a bit of a target on their backs.

“I felt a little bit like last year… we lost a few high-end players and with that I don’t think we were necessarily looked at as runaway favorites last year,” Paquette said. “But with the success we had last year and just the numbers we have returning, I think that target is kind of swung a little bit back onto us.”

The Cardinals graduated five off a team that finished 22-7-1 and nearly upset eventual state champion Hermantown at the state tournament.

“The big thing for us this year is we have so many players returning that were able to experience a great playoff run and have a good experience at the state tournament,” Paquette said. “I talked to the boys a lot about leadership and taking the reigns that way and being leaders and leading by good example of what it takes to be successful. The hard work each day in practice and to have that ultimate goal of returning to the state tournament. I think it’s an achievable goal, but at the same time, nothing is guaranteed. I hope they realize that and are ready to put in the work throughout the year.”

In goal, LHS returns Daniel Tofteland, who saw some key time in net a year ago. On defense, Paquette points to the returning players of Tyler Reisdorfer, Jim Erickson and Trey Roberts as key components to the Cardinal defense. Cade Ver Steeg, Austin Watts-Boll, Jacob VonTersch and Nathan Nekali will also see time on defense.

Kasyn Kruse, Ben Serie, Declan Beers, Mark Sterrett, Nick Harder, Coy Gonnerman, Colby Crabtree and Gaige Nath will look to contribute on the offensive end.

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