The cat is out of the bag on the Saints. Although they dropped their final two games last season and fell to sixth in the conference, the Saints are coming off their first winning season in twenty years and definitely won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around.
They might not have to.
Immediately jumping out as a strong-suit is an offensively gifted group of sophomores that took the league by storm last season. The Saints top nine scorers return for only their second season together, and it’s not only their productivity but the depth they provide that has head coach Mark Wick excited.
“(A balanced attack) was one of our strengths last season,” he said. “I expect it to also be one of our strengths again this season. I think we are five lines deep and are very balanced.”
Though sophomore Steve Bounds saw a majority of action in net last season, the Saints don’t expect he will be forced into a situation in which he must carry the load. Expect junior Tyler Johnson to also see a fair amount of action. Having two experienced goaltenders is a luxury Wick is happy to have.
“I’d expect to see some sort of a rotation again,” Wick said. “Tyler matches up well with some of the teams we play. As of now it’s a new year and everyone has a chance to prove themselves. We are comfortable with both.”
Regardless of which goalie takes the ice for the Saints, they will be assisted by a defensive unit that allowed 2.74 goals per game last season, good enough for fourth in the NCHA. Led by the sophomore Kelly Reynolds (2-3-15) and a host of other young talent that proved itself capable last season, the Saints should once again be solid defensively.
In the midst of last season’s surprising run with an extremely young team, Wick was quick to praise a handful of seniors for their superb leadership both on and off the ice. With their graduation the leadership responsibilities now fall on three sophomore captains in Joey Martini, Trevor Geiger and Reynolds. Though confident in their abilities, Wick feels leadership is still a question mark for his club.
“That is one of our biggest questions,” said Wick. “We think we have great leaders, but we still have to determine that … as the season goes on.”
Even with some questions regarding team leadership, Wick feels his team is ready to make a run at the top half of the conference.
“We would like to step up into the top echelon, get up in the top four, and get home ice,” he said. “That’s probably where we get to next. Last season we ended up sixth and bowed out in the first round of the playoffs. The number one thing we want is to be in the top half.”
Many are picking St. Scholastica as the next team to step up into the realm of the Division III elite, and they certainly are a team with a lot of upside. For now however, they are lumped in with a group of teams who will all be battling for home ice, and with such a short conference season anything than happen. Like the teams they will be battling it out with, the Saints have the tools to make it happen. As is the case with the rest of the league, only time will tell whether they will be able to do so.
Most intriguing storyline: Everyone knows this is a team on the rise, but how fast, and how far?