Losing nearly 20 seniors after the team's first season, the Mustangs boys hockey team feels like it's just going into its second year as a program, instead of third.
The Mustangs graduated 19 players in the 2017-18 season. Last year, the team finished second to last in the Eastern Dakota Conference at 4-17-1 overall, winning only one conference game.
Now, the program is in its third year, as is its head coach, David Benson.
“This is almost kind of like year two, honestly, because the fact that we’re rebuilding because of all the seniors that we lost our very first year,” Benson said.
The Mustangs lost only two seniors last year. The squad has almost a full roster of guys who garnered varsity experience over the past couple seasons. With so many returners, Benson said the Mustangs will certainly be deeper this year.
“We’re definitely excited about our experience coming back and also the strengths that we have as a team,” he said.
Sheyenne lost its two-year starting goalie Cole Nissen, who had an 83.3 save percentage, and senior captain Connor Eichenberg. Perhaps the biggest blow is Mustangs’ leading scorer Kade Peterson, who left to play his junior year with the Northstar Knights hockey team in Alexandria.
But Benson is confident he has guys on his roster who will step up and fill the roles.
The Mustangs will get help on the back end from seniors Drew Clouse and Blaze Ackerland. Benson said three-year starter Ackerland did a nice job of getting quicker and stronger over the summer, which will help with the time he’ll be logging on the blue line.
“Very strong kid, with a great shot and gritty attitude,” Benson said of Ackerland, the team’s captain. And the experience assistant captain Clouse gained last year will also help the Mustangs, he added
“Looking for him (Clouse) to hold strong on the back end while jumping into plays and assisting on the offensive side of the puck as well,” Benson said.
The Mustangs are returning the senior forward line of Emerson Krank, Preston Anderson and Cam Hultin, who plan to lead the group offensively. Sophomore Jack Belisle, the team’s second-leading scorer last year who chalked up 13 points will also be back.
Benson thinks the greatest improvement will be the team’s maturity.
“Maturity, and we put a lot of time into it throughout the summer in the weight room,” he said. “So maturity, strength and experience are the three biggest things that that we're excited about.”
Since splitting with the West Fargo Packers in 2017, the team has faced its fair share of challenges. Sheyenne went 8-15-1 the first year after the split, and has yet to make it to the postseason. Still, Benson said it’s been an enjoyable challenge.
“I think anytime where you're just building a program and you're trying to create the culture and you're trying to create the expectations — anytime you're trying to build something, it's a difficult process,” he said.
Benson said it’ll be a fun, exciting year, and he has high hopes for his 2019-20 group.
“I think our expectations are to obviously get better every day and have a positive attitude, and do the right things consistently,” he said.
The Eastern Dakota Conference is always tough, Benson said, and it’ll be no different this year.
“Every single night you got to show up ready to play. With the experience that our guys have coming back, they know this now,” he said. “I think they’re up for a good challenge throughout the year and it should be fun to watch.”
The Mustangs open their season with a home game against Fargo Davies at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26, at the West Fargo Sports Arena.