As Steve Fabiili enters his second season as head coach of the Lumberjacks, it’s clear his program has nowhere to go but up. The Lumberjacks have posted a record of 17-106-4 over the past five seasons, and have been firmly planted in the MCHA cellar.
Northland’s attempt to forget the past and focus on the future begins with a roster sporting twelve newcomers. Replete with ample experience in juniors, this year’s newcomers will be expected to contribute right off the bat.
“We had seventeen guys leave from last year,” Fabiilli said. “It’s a challenge to replace that many guys. There are certain character and personality aspects we were looking for in this year’s players. That’s the first step to improvement, which is the ultimate goal of this program. I think the new guys bring us a good mix of experience and energy.”
One area where the Lumberjacks are experienced is in net. Sophomore Mike Mistretta (2-10-0, 4.43, .884) and senior Justin Grant (1-11-0, 6.24, .859) saw a majority of the time in goal last season and can be expected to carry the load again this season.
The goaltending experience will be essential for a Lumberjack team that lost four of its top five scorers and three of its top defensemen from last season.
Leading up a new-look offensive cast will be top returning scorer and captain Jim Junker. The senior captain will be relied on to set the tone for a Lumberjack offense that aside from him returns only twelve points of scoring from last year. Fabiilli also expects a host of new faces to contribute offensively.
“We’ve gotten a lot quicker,” he said. “It may take some time to get everyone going in the same direction, but I like what we have.”
Defensively, the Lumberjacks will also have an almost entirely new look. Returning only two defensemen in junior Eric DeCaires (0-4-4) and senior Steve O’Hern (1-2-3)
Northland is very reminiscent of Wis.-Eau Claire of the NCHA. Both have second year coaches, both have seen major roster overhaul this offseason, and both are getting high praise from others around the league. Much like Eau Claire, a wait and see approach with the Lumberjacks is probably the best way to go. Fabiilli is looking to make his mark on the program and turn Northland into a contender in the MCHA but with so many new faces this season it will take a few games before anyone can accurately judge this Lumberjack team. That’s not stopping Fabiilli and his Northland team from expecting much more this season, however.
“We would like to finish in the top four of the conference,” he said. “That was our stated goal from the get go. There are a lot of good teams in this league, but that’s our goal. If we want to achieve it we better be ready to play each and every day or it’s not going to happen.”
Most intriguing storyline: The Lumberjacks are going to improve, but how long will it take?