The men’s hockey team starts its season this weekend at Bloomington Ice Gardens for the Inaugural MIAC Hockey Showcase.
St. Thomas looks for its young players to have an immediate impact as the Tommies aim to improve on last year’s third place MIAC finish.
The Tommies have 16 new faces on the 34-man roster, 14 of which are freshmen. According to coach Terry Skrypek, this year’s tryouts had more guys than he has ever seen.
“It is kind of a changeover,” Skrypek said. “Hopefully it’s a good mix of the veterans and the new guys.”
The Tommies finished the regular season last year tied with Gustavus Adolphus for second place, posting a 12-11-3 overall record. The team lost to Gustavus 3-1 in the conference semifinals, missing the finals for just the third time in 24 years.
“I think the biggest thing is this year the whole emphasis has been team and the idea of a team concept,” Skrypek said. “Last year we were not a good team. I felt there was a lot of selfish play… This year if we are going to have success we have to do it by committee.”
Combining senior leaders with freshmen
This “committee” is led by senior captains Parker Burgess and Alex Arnason, who both have a lot of faith in the team’s newcomers.
“Leading a young team is something special,” Arnason said. “With all the new guys, our responsibilities are just to help mesh the team and so far we have done a great job.”
Last year’s team had only two players score more than 10 goals. Junior Rob Johnson led the team with 19 and junior Andrew Kappers had 10.
“Johnson will have another great year like he should,” Kappers said. “I also see Arnason and Burgess exploding for an unreal season. They are two of our captains and want to win more than anyone on the team.”
Freshman Riley Horgan and sophomore Tommy O’Donnell are two players that Arnason said could add an offensive spark to a team that ranked fifth last year in the MIAC with 92 goals on the season.
Defensively the team has to replace six of its starting defensemen from last season, including All-American Adam Davis who led the team with 19 assists.
Davis leaves some big skates to fill but coach Skrypek said that sophomore Corvin Keiger can step into the spot.
“He will be a force to be reckoned with,” Skrypek said. “He is as wide as he is thick and is very strong.”
Finding the best fit with who’s in the net
The Tommies started four different goalies last year, trying to find the best fit. Sophomore Cary Wood ended up seeing a majority of the minutes, compiling a 2.48 goals-against-average and a save percentage of nearly 90 percent in 13 games.
The players know that Skypek and the coaching staff will play the goalie they feel gives them he best chance to win.
“Goaltending was an issue last year and I don’t see it being an issue this year,” Arnason said. “Whoever is hot at that point of the year will play and our team is more than confident with any of the goalies we have.”
The Tommies will look to get off to a quick start at the beginning of the season in neutral ice games against St. Mary’s and St. John’s, as the team knows how important the early schedule can be.
“We are going to have to be patient but we have to get off to a quick start so that we can build confidence,” Strypek said. “We are going to have to have a better year this year. There is a lot of parody in our league, we can be right there, guys just need to jump up.”
Strypek is in his 23rd season as Tommies’ head coach and is no stranger to coaching young teams.
“Skry[pek] is an awesome coach and has given me a new love for hockey,” Burgess said. “He is a player’s coach and has such a strong passion for the game. He also is a great teacher and loves his players.”
Brian Matthews can be reached at email@example.com