The West Fargo High School boys hockey team split with West Fargo Sheyenne three years ago. In the first season after the split, the young Packers won just three games.

That same group tripled their number of wins last year, going 9-15 overall. The Packers lost six of those games by a goal, and West Fargo’s head coach Troy Miller is expecting big things from his team this year.

“They’re A, more talented, and B, they’re physically mature now,” Miller said. “So instead of having a 140 pound average, we probably average 165-170 pounds. When you start putting 25-30 pounds per kid over the span of two or three years, that by itself helps significantly.”

The Packers graduated seven seniors last season, but still have a lot of continuity returning.

Offensive threat Brayden Jacobson, the Packers’ leading scorer the last two seasons, will be back. The junior forward put up 44 points last year, and Miller is expecting another impressive show from Jacobson.

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West Fargo sophomore Brayden Jacobson was named to the 2019 first-team All-State team. David Samson / The Pioneer
West Fargo sophomore Brayden Jacobson was named to the 2019 first-team All-State team. David Samson / The Pioneer

Miller also has high hopes for Jackson Prochnow, the team’s second-leading scorer who had 31 points as a junior last year, and Dalton Bossert, a junior defenseman who scored 18 goals last season.

Senior goaltender Gabe Pederson will sit between the pipes this year. Pederson has played a great deal over the last two years, and Miller is anticipating he’ll have a good season this winter.

The Packers haven’t been to the state tournament since the 2015-16 season, and the group is looking to cap the upcoming season at the February competition.

“The transition has been tough on us, but we feel like this is the year we have a good shot to get back to the state tournament,” Miller said. “That’s certainly our goal.”

The team’s biggest loss offensively is former captain Nathan Tangen, who tallied 27 points last year, split between nine goals and 18 assists. Chase Forthun, also a captain who played a lot of minutes for the Packers as a defenseman, is another primary loss on the blue line.

“We want to get better every day and then obviously, be very disappointed if we don't qualify for the state tournament,” Miller said.

Miller is optimistic about this year. The first season after the schools split, West Fargo was left with about 29 kids, Miller said.

“We were very young and very thin. It’s hard to play varsity and junior varsity when your numbers are in the 20s,” Miller said.

West Fargo goaltender Gabe Pederson deflects a Grand Forks Red River shot during Tuesday's first round of the 2019 North Dakota East Region boys hockey tournament at Fido Purpur Arena in Grand Forks. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service
West Fargo goaltender Gabe Pederson deflects a Grand Forks Red River shot during Tuesday's first round of the 2019 North Dakota East Region boys hockey tournament at Fido Purpur Arena in Grand Forks. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service

This season is the first year post split that the Packers have a full varsity and junior varsity roster. Sheyenne graduated 19 seniors its first year as a squad — West Fargo graduated zero, and had only four returning players.

“It was just bizarre. You would think if there's 70 hockey players, they'd be more broken out gradually — by school, by grade,” Miller said. “For one side to have 19 seniors and the other side to have zero is just crazy.”

Typically, it shouldn’t happen like that, Miller said. Because of the mismatch, West Fargo was forced to play young players with little to no varsity experience.

“It was really tough the first year, year and a half. But we hope to benefit from that this year,” Miller said.

In his 12th year at the helm, this season is Miller’s first as the team’s lone head coach. His co-head coach of 11 years Tim Capouch retired this offseason.

West Fargo begins its season with an away game against Fargo North at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26, at the John E. Carlson Coliseum arena in north Fargo.