Wayne State’s senior class was its freshmen class back in 2002-03, when the Warriors earned their third straight College Hockey America title and their first NCAA tournament automatic bid.
The past two years have yielded little as far as postseason play, but the class of 2006 has aspirations of returning to the winner’s circle this season.
“We have the same outlook every year and that’s to win our league tournament and get to the NCAAs,” senior goalie Matt Kelly said. “We’ve won it in the past and ultimately we’d like to get back there. This is my last year around here, so it’d be nice to go out on top.”
Last year, an overtime goal by Theo Zacour advanced Air Force past WSU at the CHA tournament in Grand Rapids, Minn. Next March, the tournaments (men’s and women’s CHA) will be held at WSU’s “new” home rink, the Michigan State Fairgrounds Coliseum in Detroit. The Coliseum was Wayne State’s home during its inaugural 1999-2000 campaign.
Kelly, a co-captain along with senior defenseman Greg Poupard, heads a four-member senior class that also includes defenseman Steve Kovalchik and forward John May. Incoming freshmen are also at a low as the Warriors have only five newcomers and two redshirt freshmen arriving in the Motor City.
Forward Jon Grabarek won a United States Hockey League Clark Cup championship last season with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders and defenseman Matt Krug, kid brother of sophomore forward Adam, won a North American Hockey League Gold Cup title with the Texas Tornado.
“Jon Grabarek will be a very talented freshman for us,” WSU head coach Bill Wilkinson said. “Matt Krug will have to prove his ability for playing time. Krug has a good upside with his offensive skills and tenacity. He has a knack for big-time open-ice hits.”
But with the players back and the seniors that were a part of the title run in 2003, there’s no reason to believe Wayne State can’t make noise in conference play. Sophomore Stavros Paskaris led the team in scoring last season and earned CHA rookie of the year honors as well. Paskaris said that while the team has made improvements, the Warriors shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“I don’t think anyone should count us out,” said Paskaris. “We’ve set our goals high and we have a good chance this year. We only lost a couple guys from last year and it’s always hard losing guys, but our freshman class has some good players and should turn some heads.”
The only losses for the Warriors are defenseman Mark Bradshaw, a freshman last year who wasn’t medically cleared to return this year due to concussion problems, and John Grubb, a forward whose four years at WSU were riddled with injuries. Defenseman A.J. Bozoian also joined the team last year, but is not back this season.
Forwards Tylor Michel, Jason Baclig, Mike Forgie, Mark Cannon, Nate Higgins, John May, Mark Nebus and Ryan Wright all return along with defenders Matt Boldt, Adam Drescher and Dan Iliakis. John Nogatch will sit out this year after transferring from Lake Superior State.
After posting a 7-9-4 mark in CHA play in 2004-05, WSU obviously wants to put a couple more in the win column. And a great deal of how that happens depends on who is in goal for Wayne State. Kelly started the majority of games, but Will Hooper, a transfer from Findlay, saw action in 14 contests.
“My mindset is to go out and win games,” said Kelly. “If it’s Will in net or me in net, it doesn’t matter to me. I just want to go out there and have fun and if we win games, I’ll be a happy camper.”
“We have a pretty good one-two punch in goal,” said Wilkinson. “Matt has the upper hand heading into camp, but our hope is that Will continues to push him because Matt’s a good competitor.”
Also back is junior forward Jason Bloomingburg, a recent record-setter for WSU. Last year in his first year in Detroit after transferring from Providence, Bloomingburg potted a school-record 20 goals, shattering the old mark of 18 set by Dusty Kingston in 2000-01. Classmate Taylor Donohoe, a steady defender, won’t put up Bloomingburg-type numbers, but last year knocked cold two players — Nebraska-Omaha’s Bryan Marshall and Air Force captain Matt Bader.
Schedule-wise, Wayne State has a tough nonconference docket. The Warriors play road games at Clarkson (Oct. 28-29), Union (Nov. 25-26), Michigan State (Jan. 6-7) and Northern Michigan (Feb. 3-4) and will play in two tournaments — the Lefty McFadden Invitational in Dayton, Ohio, on Oct. 8-9 and the Badger Showdown in Madison, Wis., on Dec. 30-31. The lone home non-league contests are Dec. 9-10 versus Merrimack.
“The CHA looks interesting and tight this year,” added Kelly. “Every game counts. If you get swept in a weekend, you could fall a couple spots, but if you win both, you could go anywhere.”
Wayne State gets going with three exhibition games against ACHA powerhouse Oakland University on Oct. 4 and Oct. 19 and also against Guelph (Ont.) on Oct. 13. Sandwiched between those games are games against Michigan State and Miami at the Lefty McFadden.