After falling from 17 wins to seven, and from fourth to sixth place in the WCHA standings last season, Husky head coach Jason Lesteberg takes over the reigns of a team that went through a tumultuous 2001-02 season.
With 11 new players, nearly half of his 25-player roster, Lesteberg realizes there is some rebuilding to do. However, he feels there are some good things from the past that can be built upon.
Despite some sloppy play, the Huskies opened the season Sunday with a 4-2 exhibition win over the Toronto Jr. Aeros, getting goals from four different players.
“We’re starting fresh here and things that happened in the past are past,” Lesteberg said. “We want a fresh attitude but we want to build on some of the positives and there were some positives last year.”
Two of those positives were the play of junior forward Roxanne Stang and junior defenseman Kobi Kawamoto. Stang notched 23 goals during her sophomore season and has 49 goals and 72 points in two seasons. Kawamoto is a two-time second-team All-WCHA selection who boasts 22 goals and 61 points during her first two seasons.
Those two were among 11 players on this year’s squad who enjoyed St. Cloud State’s 17-win season in 2000-01, a point which Lesteberg stressed.
“We want to get across to our players that we expect to be able to win every game we play,” he said. “We want to get that winning edge back. The bulk of our kids were part of that team that won 17 games two years ago.”
Lesteberg stated that the trademark of his team will be its work ethic and Amanda Mathison, one of the team’s five seniors, echoed that sentiment.
“The big thing is attitude,” she said. “Everyone wants to work hard. We’ve gotten to know what Jason wants and everyone is working to their full potential.”
Kawamoto added that they’re not just grinding things out in practice.
“We’re having fun as a team,” she said. “The cohesion is great and we’re really coming together as a team but Jason gets his points across too. He’s a big guy and, in this building, his voice booms so you really listen. He’s stopped practice and addressed a couple of issues already.”
As with most teams, goaltending will be a key for the Huskies this season. Lesteberg will have the services of two returning goalies in senior Laura Gieselman and junior Ellen Brinkman, along with freshman Brie Anderson, but said they’ll be competing for playing time.
“I’m the kind of coach who would rather have a go-to goalie,” he said. “But I’ll probably rotate them until one of them steps up.”
Gieselman was 15-15-2 two seasons ago before falling to 4-16-0 last year. Brinkman was just 3-10-1 last year but came up with a 3-0 shutout of eventual national champion Minnesota-Duluth late in the season.
In all, Lesteberg likes the future for his program and feels he has another program to serve as a model: Craig Dahl’s men’s program at St. Cloud State.
“I feel we have all of the ingredients to build a successful program,” Lesteberg said. “Just look at the men’s program. We have to utilize what we have and I feel we have one of the best situations in college hockey. The facilities are excellent and the location, the atmosphere and the support makes it a very positive environment.”
The Huskies open their regular season with a pair of WCHA home games against Lesteberg’s former team, Bemidji State, Oct. 12-13.