Boys Hockey: Finding the right mix
The 2012-13 season will be a bit of a balancing act for the Red Wing boys hockey team.
With a mix of veterans and newcomers, the Wingers coaching staff decided to mix things up in the first weeks of practice by holding practices more like tryouts.
"It was more like how the bigger schools do it," said Red Wing senior forward Taylor Hanson. "It was not so much about seniority, but how you play and how you earn it. Everyone's going all out to try and earn their spots.
"Hopefully, it'll get us more prepared and we'll win some more games this year."
Last year, the Wingers sported nine seniors with plenty of experience. But this time around, the tryouts served as a way for the Red Wing players to bond as they prepare to open the season Tuesday at Buffalo.
"We had seniors that played big minutes for a year or two, even three, so moving into (last) season was fairly solid," said Wingers head coach Mike Belisle. "This year we don't have that, so we want to keep everyone together, let them have a one-week tryout, get a scrimmage in and see where everyone falls."
After a 13-13-1 record in 2011-12, Red Wing hopes its upperclassmen can help bring the younger players up to speed in hopes of a deep section run.
Leading the way is the senior trio of Hanson, Alex Rezansoff and Ryan Rehder. Playing together since Squirts, Hanson, Rezansoff and Rehder return as the Wingers' top line, accounting for 35 goals and 51 assists last season.
"We've been playing together a long time," Rezansoff said. "Everything came back pretty quick to us (in practice). We play really well together."
With sophomores like Tristan Rehder and Dylan Goggin playing on the second line with junior Tyler Rea, having Hanson, Rezansoff and Rehder on the first line helps set the benchmark for the rest of the team.
"Bringing back those points from that line, it's invaluable in the five-on-five," Belisle said. "It's invaluable in the locker room, and really, invaluable when you look at it in special teams."
In the net, goaltender Preston Blaney returns for his senior season after going 10-11-1 last season with a 3.11 goals-against average and a 90.1 save percentage.
Behind Blaney is sophomore Adam Defore, who will also see time on the junior varsity squad.
"Skill wise, and on the technical side, Preston is one of the best there is, in Class 1A and 2A," Belisle said. "He's a talented goalie; he's a hard-working young man. The biggest thing we've seen for him is his leadership. That really blossomed for him at the end of last year."
On defense, the Wingers are still feeling out their options.
"We have a couple returning veterans on the blue line," Rezansoff said, "but we've had a couple guys in practice step up and pick up the blue line."
After losing Jack Strusz and Dayton Johnson to graduation, Red Wing will be led at the point by senior Anthony Kimmes and junior Michael Bigelbach.
"We have tremendous players in Michael and Anthony. Jack Gorman's got three years of experience and Jamie Nevitt is coming up from the bantams," Belisle said. "We got four, but we need to find a couple more defensemen that can play regular minutes. We had a veteran crew of five or six last year. It's the five-on-five that we need to get people acclimated."
Two back-breakers for Red Wing last season were untimely penalties and third-period struggles. In 2011-12, the Wingers had a 59-52 advantage over teams in the first two periods before getting outscored 31-19 in the third.
Belisle believes the senior leadership can help curb some of the penalty problems that plagued the team last year. Another element is conditioning, which may help in keeping Red Wing energized and out of the penalty box.
"We're trying to get more conditioned for the third period so we can keep our feet moving," Hanson said. "Hopefully, that'll remove some of those tripping penalties and we can stay out of the box a little bit. When you're fresher, you're more able to move your feet and stop reaching and using your hands."
Starting against the Bison Tuesday, the Wingers open the season with five straight road games. The hope is that the team bonds in that time, and can help build to bigger things in February.
"The biggest thing is that leadership we have and bringing that confidence into that section run," Belisle said. "We have the ability to be a three-line team. We have two lines that have the ability to skate with the one or the two lines of a Lourdes, of a Northfield or a New Prague, and then when you put our goaltending against anyone else's, I like our chances."