Large crop of freshman key for Wisconsin-Eau Claire

The Blugolds’ journey this season will be as much inward as upward, as 10 freshmen join nine sophomores on the roster.

“We’re heading in the right direction obviously,” said coach Matt Loen, whose team is off to a 2-1 start, with nonconference wins over Lawrence and Gustavus Aldophus.

“It’s a matter of getting our youth going as a unit.”

However, it was senior forward Ross Janecyk’s two goals and two assists that paced the Blugolds in three nonconference games, which were designed to prep the team for a rugged Northern Collegiate Hockey Association campaign ahead.

With 14 players notching at least a point so far, the scoring ledger resembles last season’s offense-by committee effort, when six players hit double figures.

Gone, though, are last season’s top two scorers, Joe Bluhm (9 goals, 13 assists) and Brant Marple (6 goals, 14 assists). Loen pointed out that returning sophomores Isaiah Bennis (11 goals, 5 assists) and Jordan Singer (6 goals, 9 assists)  weren’t far behind. Neither was junior Tyler Romasco (4 goals, 8 assists), who adds depth upfront.

The fourth year coach also likes what he sees so far from freshmen forwards Jared Williams (Alpena NAHL) and Niko Kapetanovic (Albert Lea NAHL).

“We’re looking more for wins rather than who is going to be our leading scorer,” the coach said. “Our main goal is to win more games this year.”

Defensively, the team retains some experience in seniors John Kearns and Tim Possehi, as well as junior Tyler Jundt. Freshmen Chris Heineman (Traverse City NAHL) and Tom Strachiw (Canmore AJHL) are feature players in a budding crop of blue liners.

“(Heineman) played a lot minutes in our first game and he’s done some nice things so far,” said Loen while noting Strachiw at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds “adds some toughness.”

Sophomore goalie Brandon Stephenson, who started in both Blugolds victories, is looking to build on an impressive freshman campaign where he posted a 2.65 goals-against with a .906 save-percentage despite going 4-7-3.

The team’s spirit is also vibrant.

“I think the team chemistry is really good,” Loen says. “Last year, (the cohesion) started and hopefully that can continue, because that’s the culture we want to provide for these student athletes.”


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