The Lions enter their third season in the MCHA hoping to continue the progress they have made in their first two. Following up a fourth place finish in their inaugural season with a third place finish last year, Finlandia returns every single player from last season which is reason enough to instill hope in head coach Joe Burcar.
“Our experience is something we can turn to,” he said. “Last season there were some games that got away from us and that may have been due to our youth. Now these guys have a season together and know you have bring your ‘A’ game all the time.”
Burcar is certainly accurate when he speaks to the Lions experience, as they have plenty of it no matter where you look.
Having scored 70 points in his first two seasons, junior forward Josh Paquette is certainly the Lions big playmaker but he is only the first name on a list of players with the potential to put up big numbers. Junior Joe Lewis, sophomore Mike Parks, sophomore Ryan Sullivan, junior Jason Aldrich, junior Steve Piccoli (5-12-17) and junior Travis Hanson (5-11-16) are at the head of an extremely deep group of forwards.
“There is no question I’m happy with our depth up front,” said Burcar. “We also have a few freshmen coming in this year who are fast and can score as well.”
With the depth up front, the Lions defensemen don’t do much in terms of offensive production, but according to Burcar are crucial to establishing a hard-nosed physical presence that is essential to their success.
“I’d call it a blue-collar team,” he said. “We play a physical style and work hard. The work ethic and physicality is something we can use to make it tough on other teams.”
Junior Brad VanTassel (3-6-9), junior Blake Miller (2-4-6) and sophomore Matt Lindgren (0-2-0) comprise the heart of the Lions defense. Also expected to be a key fixture on the Finlandia blue line is transfer Tiger Marcotte. Marcotte will be a sophomore and joins the Lions after a successful freshman season with Utica (ECAC West).
The depth doesn’t stop there as the Lions return both goaltenders from last season’s team. Senior Joe Juntilla (9-8-2, 4.34, .857) and junior Lukas Alberer (1-5-1, 4.26, .862) are both back, and along with two freshman give the Lions four goaltenders that Burcar is happy with. Despite this, Juntilla is closing in on numerous school records so expect him to see a majority of time this season.
Overall the Lions have plenty to be optimistic about heading into the season. Having returned every player from a team that rose a spot in the standings last season, Finlandia is hoping to move up again this season, though Burcar insists it won’t come easy.
“I’m happy with our team, but this league keeps improving,” he said. “I like where we are at but there are no gimmes in this league. There are some very good teams at the top, and we just need to keep a good work ethic and come to play every night.”
Most intriguing storyline: In only their third season in the MCHA, will Finlandia continue to improve on an already impressive history?