Season Preview: Boys Hockey
By Tyler Shoberg
Normally, the West Fargo boys hockey team is the hunter; the one on the prowl during the regular season in search of taking down a top team.
This year, the Packers may be the ones with the target on their backs.
During last year's East Region tournament, West Fargo successfully usurped Grand Forks Red River - a team they were winless against during the regular season - to keep the previous year's state champs from defending their title. The victory may have taken some fans by surprise, but not co-coach Tim Capouch.
"I wouldn't call it an upset," he said. "But it was good for the players."
Upset or not, the results were clear: West Fargo was a talented team and proved it in the state tournament. They won two of their three games, including a 4-3 decision over Grafton-Park River in the consolation championship.
The Packers arguably had one of their best seasons in a while, racking up an overall record of 17-7-3, while going 8-5-2-1 (overtime loss) against Eastern Dakota Conference opponents.
And though they will be without some of their top scorers from last year - including points leader Dusty Jonasson who had 19 goals and 23 assists and earned All-Conference honors, as well as Derek Sand, who was All Conference and All-State - much of the team returns largely intact.
"We have a lot of veteran experience," Capouch said.
In fact, the Packers will boast a dozen seniors this season, nine of which have played varsity hockey, Capouch said.
Two of those seniors include goalies Cameron Holland and Josh Hanson, who last season were ranked No. 16 and 17 in the state, respectively. So far, Capouch and co-coach Troy Miller are unsure as to who of the two will start the season.
"Right now, they're battling for starting position," Capouch said.
Holland wound up as West Fargo's go-to netminder last season. He finished the year at 13-6-1, with a 3.07 goals against average and 90.2 saves percentage. Hanson, meanwhile, certainly pulled his weight, finishing the season at 4-1-2 with a 3.2 goals against average and 88.2 saves percentage.
But while the goalie situation is yet undecided, West Fargo's captains are all set.
Seniors Jeremy Johnson, Brandon Tendeland and Dusty Munyer were chosen to lead the Packers this season.
Johnson and Tendeland were last year's No. 2 and No. 3 points leaders for West Fargo. Johnson, a forward, led the Packers in goals with 20, and had 37 points altogether for 16th best in the state. Meanwhile, defenseman Tendeland, who also was a captain last season, racked up nine goals and 20 assists, and was ranked No. 33 in the state.
Other offensive threats could come from a myriad of players. Juniors Charlie Torrance and Conor Jonasson were ample points providers. The duo was Nos. 6 and 7 on the depth chart, and combined for nearly 50 points.
Munyer was right at Conor Jonasson's heels at 21 points (12 of which were goals), and was just one of eight Packers to crack 20 points for the season.
But while the veteran talent may carry the team, it's the unknown underclassmen that could turn the tide.
Of three freshman who tried out for the team, two made the grade. Tyler Berginski and Nick Turner got the nod, and Capouch said it was well deserved.
"Those two are very good hockey players, and as far as skill level, they're right up there with some of our best players," he said.
Besides being good friends, Berginski and Turner also have an impressive resume. This past summer, the two, along with Conor Jonassan and Tendeland, were among 220 players from across the country to take part in USA Hockey's Select Development Camps in Rochester, N.Y.
Even with some national experience, the young guns will have to catch up to the speed of high school hockey.
"The biggest thing we need to work on is the underclassmen," Capouch said. "They have to realize the speed, and adjust to the game accordingly."
Other than that, the team is clicking well, Capouch said, and everyone is looking forward to the hometown crowd for welcomed cheering.
"The support from fans in West Fargo is very good," Capouch said.
As for the rest of the conference, it could be another battle-it-out year. Defending state champs Grand Forks Central will be returning many of their top scorers. Casey Purpur, a senior this year, was No. 2 in the state with 62 points. Altogether, the Knights will bring back four skaters who cracked the 30-point mark.
West Fargo got a chance to test its mettle Tuesday, when they hosted Wahpeton. Their next game comes Friday at 7:30 p.m., when Bismarck comes to grace Vet's Arena with its presence. The Demons were runners-up at last year's state tournament, but return minus their Top 5 points leaders.
Nonetheless, the game could be a battle. In fact, the entire season is going to take some grit, perseverance and consistency to get through.
"The Eastern Dakota Conference always has tough teams," Capouch said. "It's anyone's game."