Tops among the preseason priorities for Wayne State coach Bill Wilkinson was finding a replacement for goaltender David Guerrera, who backstopped the Warriors for his entire four years at the college. Fortunately, WSU is located in Hockeytown, USA, and Wilkinson thought he could give a fellow Detroit club a hand with its roster problems.
“We tried to get Curtis Joseph from the Red Wings, but that didn’t work out.” Wilkinson joked. “However, we have Mark Carlson, who is a redshirted senior, and Matt Kelly, who played well in the duty he has seen. We are just going to have to let them battle it out during the first half of the season.”
— Coach Bill Wilkinson, joking about the need to replace David Guerrera in goal.
Goaltender will not be the only position subject to an open competition this year. Wilkinson may have to be no less creative than trying to get CuJo in order to see each battle to an immediate, positive result. WSU graduated 12 seniors from last year’s NCAA squad.
“We have a lot of holes to fill on our team,” Wilkinson said. “We feel that we have the players needed to fill some of the void, but they are all untested.”
The gap is largest on defense, where the Warriors will dress almost exclusively freshmen and sophomores. Senior Nick Stodgell is about all there is for experience on the blueline. It may take a half a season before sophomores Steve Kovalchik and Greg Poupard blend in with the recruits.
“If I had any big concern it would be on defense, because we are going to be very young,” Wilkinson said.
The neophyte defense will force the Warriors to be more assertive, to score more goals and take pressure off the blueline.
“With the veterans we had in the past, we could be a real patient team,” Wilkinson said. “This year we are going to be more aggressive on the forecheck and might even be a little stronger physically despite losing all those seniors.”
The freshman class has certainly made the Warriors a bigger team. Rookie defensemen Taylor Donohue and Adam Drescher are 215 and 220 pounds, respectively. Forward Mark Nebus is 6-1, 205.
Wayne State still has some guys who can put the puck in the net. Sophomore Derek MacKay had 16 goals and 12 assists in his first campaign. Junior Nathan Rosychuck notched 25 points a year ago.
“On one hand, the inexperience is a weakness,” Wilkinson said. “But on the other hand, the kids bring an excitement and enthusiasm that we had three or four years when we were building. We just have to blend that youth together with our mature players.”
The price any veteran team pays for making a run at the NCAA tournament is that it takes at least one season to rebuild at key positions. Wayne State is probably heading for that year, but that doesn’t mean the program doesn’t have a little afterglow from its success.
“We took a big step for our program last year,” Wilkinson said, “To play under the duress of the NCAA tournament against the best in the nation was a huge bonus for us as a program. Now we have more people recognizing us and kids looking at us as a viable option for both hockey and academics.”
That added talent base will, in the long run, reduce the gaps between lulls in performance. In the interim, maybe the Red Wings will reconsider.