After a dreadful season with only one win to its name, Saint Mary’s Cardinals are imbued with a new sense of optimism.
“It’s awesome,” said coach Bill Moore, who enters his third season at the helm. “We have fun going to practice every day. The kids are working their butts off.
“It’s a totally different environment than what I’ve had in my first two years.”
One reason for the rejuvenated outlook is the influx of 15 freshmen, some of whom are expected to make an immediate impact. After last season’s subterranean 1-23-1 (1-15-0 in MIAC) finish, a fresh approach was needed.
“We felt the best way to build the program here at Saint Mary’s was to start with a good core of returnees, which we have eight or 10 good returners,” Moore says. “But then we needed to fill it in with freshmen who are great character people as well as good hockey players.”
A freshman, Danny Wood, netted the game-winner in the Cardinals’ first win of the new season, a 3-1 victory over St. Olaf on Nov. 6.
The triumph halted a 22-game winless skid, which commenced after a 3-1 victory over Concordia on Nov. 14, 2009. The team was 0-3 this season before the St. Olaf victory.
Consistent with their rebuilding theme, this season’s Cards feature an all-freshmen line in North American Hockey League luminaries Brad Fusaro (Kenai River), Scott Duer (Texas), and Mike Schaber (Springfield). Fusaro, a native of Soldotna, Alaska, led the trio with two goals and an assist while Schaber supplied a goal and an assists through four games.
Freshmen defensive tandem Brad Denney (Janesville NAHL) and Nick Carson (Owatonna NAHL) have also stood out. When it comes to offensive production, though, the relatively more experienced line of junior Tom Healy, junior Vince Unklesbay, and sophomore Kevin Wentland is expected to carry the Cards. Wentland had a team-leading two goals and two assists through four games.
“We really believe that is going to be our top line,” Moore said.
The team’s underlying strength may be in goal, with sophomores Jason Horstman and Andy Scheib expected to share duties. Horstman was 1-1 with a 4.05 GAA this season while Scheib was 0-2 with a 3.05 GAA. There is no rush to establish a number one starter, Moore said.
“We’ll probably switch back and forth until Christmas time to see who shakes out. Because they’re both sophomores, we definitely want to get them playing experience.
“If we get into a position where we are playoff-bound or fighting for a playoff position, we may have to make that decision at that time.”
That ultimate choice may be further down the road, as the Cards were projected to finish last again in a preseason MIAC coaches poll. With a litter of talented new players and a group of solid returnees, team members are eager to prove that assessment was a bit harsh.
“We don’t know that we have everything we need to have to be a champion this year, but we feel we got the building blocks to get the program to where it should be.”