Changes in order for boys hockey
West Fargo boys hockey coaches are so confident in the abilities of their underclassmen that seven freshmen and sophomores made the varsity team this season. It's a clear sign that changes are in order for the Packers.
Also, first year co-head coaches Tim Capouch and Troy Miller replace longtime head coach Ross Richards in the wake of his departure from the program earlier this year. Both new coaches were assistants under Richards, by far the winningest coach in school history.
West Fargo had already played two games and was 1-1 at press time, with a season-opening, 6-2 loss to Bismarck last Friday followed the next night by a 5-2 win over Bismarck Century.
The Packers know that making only their second trip to the state tournament in school history this season is a tall order. The EDC is traditionally dominated by the Grand Forks schools, Grafton and Fargo South.
"We'll see what happens once we start playing some games that count against EDC teams. Hopefully we can get to the state tournament. It's every team's goal to get there," said senior forward Jared Koehnen.
One sure sign that the program is getting more competitive came last month when coaches had to cut seven players who sought to wear green and white. That coaches had 48 players to choose from for the JV and varsity squads in the first place is a near-milestone. West Fargo has historically struggled with a lack of players in its hockey program. Capouch said he can recall only one time in his seven seasons under Richards that the rosters had to be trimmed.
This year's Packers feature two freshmen and five sophomores, and all are expected to be varsity regulars.
"That's one good thing about this year's team," said Capouch. "Our freshman and sophomore groups are so strong that we have the luxury of having some leverage of having to perform every day, because there are guys knocking at the door to play at the varsity level. It's been awhile since we had that."
West Fargo returns six defensemen with varsity experience, including senior Nathan Halda (3 goals, 5 assists last season), junior captain Derek Sand (4 assists), juniors Gage Shoman (1 assist) Landon Knoll and Nate Borchardt (2 goals, 4 assists) and sophomore Brandon Tendeland (7 goals, 5 assists).
"Defensively, we're pretty strong," said Capouch.
The graduation of Kirby Keller, the only all-state goalie ever from West Fargo, gives a pair of Packers a chance to vie for that top goaltender spot. Sophomore Cameron Holland played against Bismarck, picked by many as the top team in the WDA. Holland gave up six goals but had 52 saves, which ranks among the most ever in one game for a Packer goalie. Junior Jackson Erbstoesser played against Bismarck Century and won but faced only 20 shots. Capouch said both will be rotated until the coaches can decide on who will be their main man in the crease.
The Packers return some experience offensively. Koehnen (2 goals, 2 assists), senior Jake Springer (1 goal, 1 assist) and freshman Charlie Torrance make up the first line. The second line will be seniors Jordan Olstad (4 goals, 2 assists) and Tyler Vareberg and junior Dusty Jonasson (4 goals, 3 assists) a team captain.
Freshman Conor Jonasson and sophomores Braden Schmid and Dusty Munyer make up the third line. The fourth line will be comprised of junior Alex Erickson and sophomore Jeremy Johnson, as well as possibly junior Kyle Shoman (3 goals, 4 assists), who returns soon from being ineligible.
"We're going to get going. Eventually as the younger guys get some experience, we'll play with more confidence and be a lot better," said Halda, who noted many of the younger players were strong in the Bantam ranks last year.
Capouch said one big difference fans will see between this team and those of the past will be the involvement of defenders on offense.
"Our defensemen are very skilled players," said Capouch. "They're going to be jumping up into the play, and they're going to be carrying the puck, be our quarterbacks, so to speak. Our defensemen are going to be a lot more involved."
West Fargo recently hosted its annual jamboree - a series of informal, preseason scrimmages. The Packers outscored Fergus Falls, Jamestown and Fargo North during their three total sessions on the ice.
It's all enough to make players say they are optimistic about this season. The Packers were 4-17-2 last year and finished in eighth place in the nine-team EDC last year. West Fargo is ranked sixth in the EDC in the first coaches' poll of this season.
"As a team we can go a lot farther than last year," said Tendeland. "We all get along and want the same thing. We just want to do well this season and go to the state tournament."