Along with a new coach, the rebuilding Bethel Royals have embarked on a journey this season that will likely to be filled with many highs and lows.
After losing their first four games, the Royals already endured the depths often experienced by an upstart team. Then there are turning points, like Thursday’s 4-3 triumph at Saint John’s to break the skid.
The Royals scored three unanswered goals in the second period to erase a 2-0 deficit. Junior defenseman Mason Swenson’s short-handed effort in the third period turned out to be the game-winner, as Bethel nabbed its first MIAC win this season. The achievement came earlier than many would have predicted.
In a preseason coaches poll, Bethel was picked to finish eighth in the nine-team MIAC.
“I’m one of those guys who says, ‘There’s a poll …. yep, all right, great. Let’s go and see what reality is,'” said Charlie Burgraff, who assumed the coaching duties this season. Burgraff, who replaces Joel Johnson, coached Bethel women’s program for four seasons.
“We don’t even talk about (the poll). We talk about what we need to be doing to be successful.”
The first-year coach pledged his team will play aggressively but within the rules and “put energy into the puck,” he added. If things gell, the Royals should see returns in terms of wins as early as December.
Back is All-MIAC left wing Jack Paul, who led the team with 12 goals and 24 points last season. The Minnetonka, Minn. native was on pace to surpass those figures with four goals and an assist through five games.
Another All-MIAC pick, defenseman Jon Crouse, adds offensive punch from the blue line. Last season, Crouse posted a team-leading 17 assists as the squad’s No. 2 point-getter. Swenson, also a defenseman, had three assists to go along with his pivotal goal in Thursday’s contest through five games.
“In the games we’ve played, they’ve been heady guys and good competitors,” Burgraff said.
Forward Garrett Windle (Twin Cities MNJHL) and defenseman Tyler Sorenson (Janesville NAHL) have been freshmen standouts so far.
The Royals’ biggest question remained in goal, where a replacement was needed for First-Team All-MIAC selection Aaron Damjanovich (career 48-37-11, 3.11 goals-against and .905 save-percentage). Sophomore Zac Bush appeared to have an early edge on junior Cary Wood and sophomore Michael Sperl.
Bush, who started in the St. John’s victory, was 1-3 with a 3.79 goals-against. Wood played in the team’s 6-4 loss to Concordia in the MIAC Showcase Oct. 30.
“We need more games to see who emerges,” the coach said. “Those guys need some game experience to find their rhythm in the net.
“We were shell shocked in the first few games. We had a lot of the shots and some of those goals slipped in, but that’s OK. It’s part of the journey.”