2013-14 Winter Preview: East Ridge boys hockey team hopes to build on historic season
East Ridge took significant steps forward last season but that hasn’t left players and coaches completely satisfied.
“We want to take that next step,” Long said. “We want to get to that section final. That’s going to be a focus for this group this year.”
Last year’s squad featured a number of players who won a state title as Bantams and there are still some members of that team left this year. Senior goaltender Tyler Guck played on that Bantam team and will return after going 9-9-1 with a 3.31 goals against average and a .891 save percentage.
The Raptors also return sophomore forward Derek Hammer, who led the team with 15 goals and 25 points as a freshman and finished among the state leaders in scoring for freshmen. Other forwards returning include senior Jacob Nickoloff, who finished fourth on the team in points with six goals and 19 assists and senior Ryan McDonough, who had 15 points (5 goals, 10 assists) last season.
Long said adding a dimension of grit has been an emphasis early this season.
“If we can get them to take that next step, if we can get them to toughen up a little bit and take those risks and take the physical part of that, we’re going to see their numbers go up dramatically,” Long said.
East Ridge graduated forwards Ian Penvose, who accounted for 13 goals and 11 assists, Jack Greeley, who had eight goals and 15 assists and defenseman Tyler Hart, who had three goals and nine assists. In all the Raptors graduated nine seniors who saw significant time, but that just means other players will have to step into those roles.
With the graduation of Hart and defenseman Ryan Karrow, East Ridge will rely on senior defenseman Luke Ringhofer, junior Jack Dwyer and junior Sam Kastner to step into those roles among others.
“We just have to make sure we keep the physical play up,” Nickoloff said. “We need to go to the net a lot harder, be more aggressive, be tenacious in front of the net. We’re skilled forwards but our coaches tell us we play too much on the perimeter.”
The Raptors averaged 3.32 goals per game and hit on 21.3 percent of the time on the power play last season. East Ridge went 8-3 in its final 11 regular season games.
“Last year, it took us a little too long to grow and to start playing as a team,” senior forward Joseph Schutz said. “If we can do that a little quicker we’ll probably have more success and we’ll have more momentum building into the playoffs. We’ve definitely have a group that can bring it up to the level we had last year.”
The Raptors have to contend with a difficult section this season with the likes of Eagan and last year’s section champion Eastview, along with Cretin-Derham Hall and new addition St. Thomas Academy, which opted to play Class AA this season after winning the last three Class A state championships.
“It will be interesting to see how they handle the challenge,” Long said. “What I can tell you is I think we have a really good mix of the right puzzle pieces. What I mean by that is I think we have some talented kids that are blessed with the skills that good hockey teams have. We have guys that have a knack for the net, that can find a way to put the puck in the net. We have strong goaltending. We’ve got some defensemen that are good in every aspect of the game, from getting back to the puck and breaking us out of the zone as well as helping us score goals.”
East Ridge opens the season Nov. 26 against Bloomington Jefferson.