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Tough as ice: Trojan hockey teams determined to prove themselves

The 2021 Worthington High School boys hockey team, besides its experience in the junior class, has something else going for it, according to head coach Tyler Nienkerk. It’s a tough team. The players are hard-nosed, and they’re ready to go at it tooth, nail and skate. The Trojan girls return several key players from last year’s team, and coach Chad Nickel believes they’re determined to be competitive in virtually every game.

Worthington Senior High School seniors (front row from left) Preston Thavixay and Sammy Farra lead Trojans hockey teams letter winners (second row) Matthew Becker, Alec Langerud, Konner Honius, Jake Ahrenstorff (back row) Steven Adams, Levi Kuhl, Blake Luinenburg, Blake Ahrenstorff and Andrew Benson. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- The 2021 Worthington High School boys hockey team, besides its experience in the junior class, has something else going for it, according to head coach Tyler Nienkerk. It’s a tough team. The players are hard-nosed, and they’re ready to go at it tooth, nail and skate.

The Trojan girls return several key players from last year’s team, and coach Chad Nickel believes they’re determined to be competitive in virtually every game.

For both programs, wins have been hard to come by in recent years. But the past is not affecting today’s optimism.

The WHS girl pucksters open the season Tuesday in Fairmont. The boys open Tuesday against Fairmont in Worthington.

A look at what’s ahead:

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Boys

There are two returning seniors on the team, and they are key players.

Sammy Farra, a defenseman, is a good leader and continues pushing to improve. Nienkerk says because the WHS core is young on defense, Farra’s leadership will be much needed. On the ice, he demonstrates good recognition and also possesses a good shot from the point.

Preston Thavixay, a goalkeeper, has played at the varsity level since his freshman year and has started since he was a sophomore. He’s steady, and Nienkerk predicts he’ll keep the Trojans in a lot of games.

“He’s probably the strongest key to our success. He needs a strong year,” said the coach.

Other important players include five junior forwards: Andrew Benson, Konner Honius, Blake Ahrenstorff, Blake Luinenburg and Alec Langerud.

“We need those guys to be strong, because our defense is really young. They’ll have to step up and put the puck in the net,” said Nienkerk. “We’re lacking some experience on that 10th-grade level. But those juniors have a ton of experience. They know what’s going on. And it helps to have a senior goalie.”

Nienkerk said his first two lines will be fast.

“We’re looking to be a hard team to play against,” he said.

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Girls

The Worthington girls have gone from 0-20 in 2016-17 to 7-16 the year after that, 6-18 the year after that, and 10-14 in 2019-20. The curve is going in the right direction.

This year, Nickel and his Trojans are determined to minimize blowouts. The idea is simply to be competitive in every game.

Several talented icers are back. Senior forward Ashton Fogelman was the team’s top scorer last season. Also returning are junior forward Kessie Aljets, sophomore forward Riley Nickel, junior defender Makenna Nickel and sophomore defender Cadence Van Ede.

Fogelman can explode over the ice and is good at finding opportunities to break out. Aljets is another who moves well, and is also a good scorer who works well with her teammates. Riley Nickel has a knack for knowing where to be to receive passes, and where to send them. Makenna Nickel reads players well and is a solid back-checker. And Van Ede is quick and holds the zone well.

“We lost a great group of girls (to graduation), but with another year of maturity as a team, we could do all right. Every year they mature and they step up to the game,” Coach Nickel said. “We’re probably going to be a little short in the goaltending this year. We’re fortunate that Alexis Lyons (a senior) stepped up and took the back-up goalie position last year. She’s filling the role now.”

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