After a 9-4 exhibition win over Windsor on Sept. 28, Findlay head coach Adam Brinker knew his young team still had some work to do.
“We saw a lot of early-season mistakes,” Brinker said. “They were mistakes that are typical of young teams. But we’ve had a couple of weeks to correct those things. I guess we’ll find out because we jump into it right away.”
Brinker was referring to his team’s schedule, which opens with four games against 2002 NCAA Frozen Four participants: No. 2 Minnesota and Niagara.
Although young, with a roster featuring 17 underclassmen, the Oilers have 14 players returning from last year. Brinker believes they learned from their 8-24-2 season a year ago. Among those 24 losses were seven by one goal and six by two goals.
“A lot of factors go into a one-goal game,” Brinker said. “I think we were able to learn from that. Last year we couldn’t bury our chances but this season, they seem pretty focused. Our players have come back in better shape physically and are more ready to play.”
Although averaging more than two goals per game is high on the priority list for Findlay this year, the hopes for success begin in goal, where senior Erin Blair returns for her final season.
Despite a 4-19-1 record, Blair managed to keep her team in a number of games and her performance in the season’s second half, Brinker thinks, built her confidence for this season. He also feels comfortable with backups Jessica Moffat, a freshman, and sophomore Amy Jones, who was 4-3-0 in eight appearances last season.
“A lot will depend on Erin,” Brinker said. “She’s played a lot of games and has a lot of experience. It’s her job to run with. Moffat will challenge for the backup job and it’s my hope that she and Amy will compete and push Blair to be better.”
The most visible change in the Oilers this season may be on defense. Last year, Findlay was at a size disadvantage against most of its competition. The addition of three defensemen 5-7 or taller, coupled with a group of returning players who seem to have put in time in the weight room during the offseason, should help solve that problem.
“We’re improved on defense,” Brinker said. “If you look at where we got beat last year, it wasn’t because the kids didn’t work hard or put in the effort, but we got pushed around.
“We’ve gotten bigger and stronger this year. The hope is that we won’t get pushed around in the slot and that we’ll be stronger on the offensive blue line and do more offensively.”
Findlay got just six goals and 22 points from its defense but looks for that to change with the return of four regulars and the addition of three freshmen.
Junior Leanne Tunks is expected to lead the blue line group, while sophomore Julie Robert is the team’s top returning scoring defenseman after notching three goals and seven points as a rookie. The Oilers addressed the size issue with the addition of a trio of rookies in 5-7 Hilary Foord, 5-8 Danielle Wysomierski and 5-7 Meghan Dunlap.
Despite losing its top three scorers from last season, Findlay will rely on a group of players who, with some seasoning last year and better offseason conditioning, should improve the team’s 72-goal output.
Senior captain Melissa Oliver is the team’s top returning scorer after collecting four goals and 15 points last season. Sophomore Heidi Tallqvist was second on the team with nine goals as a rookie.
“Oliver has come back in tremendous shape,” Brinker said. “Tallqvist is back after a season of injuries and, as a whole, the kids look quicker and stronger on the puck.
“I feel we’re deeper up front than we have been in the past and we’ve got everyone going in the right direction.”
After opening the season against No. 2 Minnesota over the weekend, the Oilers will face Niagara on the road in their first CHA competition, Oct. 18-19.