For the past few years, the Brainerd Warriors have relied on one individual, or a top-flight first line, to deliver the majority of their scoring.
Josh Archibald, Matt Pohlkamp, Mitch McLain and Aaron Rich were as skilled as any players in Minnesota during their tenures with the Warriors. Archibald (Nebraska-Omaha), Pohlkamp (Fargo Force) and McLain (Langley, B.C., Rivermen) have gone on to play at the next level.
This year’s Warriors will likely take a more balanced scoring approach. Pohlkamp, McLain and Rich graduated following last season, combining for 194 points and helping Brainerd win its third straight Central Lakes Conference championship, tie the program record for wins (23) and make the second section final appearance in program history. The Warriors lost to Moorhead 3-1 in the Section 8-2A championship game at Bemidji State University.
“Our margin for error is razor-thin compared to last year, actually the last few years,” Warriors assistant coach Jim Ernster said. “We’ve kind of always had that one player you could turn to. Now our approach has got to be more three lines every game as opposed to relying on one or two players.”
Brainerd returns seven forwards, five defensemen and a goaltender who played a part in the Warriors’ 23-5-0 season, one in which the Warriors defeated perennial power Roseau twice in the same year for the first time.
Cole Smith is the leading returning scorer with 18 goals and 7 assists. Logan Rivard contributed 11-13, Reno Fussy 8-5, Mason Severson 3-5, Griffin Campbell 4-2, Jake Ellingson 0-4 and Isaac Johnson 0-2.
“Obviously, we’re excited to get back on the ice,” Warriors head coach Jim Archibald said. “Our first week of practice (Nov. 12-17), as coaches, we thought went very well. There was no lack of effort on the ice, which is nice to see.
“We lost about 66 percent of our scoring from players that graduated, but we know the guys we have can put the puck in the net. We’re confident we can reload with some of our top returning players.”
Defensively, the Warriors return Chris Pohlkamp (1 goal, 13 assists), Alex Mimmack (1-2), Jed Rusk (1-17), Thomas Stoxen (0-3) and Jake Donnay.
“We have strong defensemen returning,” Archibald said.
“We’re going to take a look at what we have, forwards and on defense, and we will design the system that we will use this year where we feel we’re going to be the strongest,” Archibald added.
In goal, senior Kyle Helmberger returns after backing up Jared Stearns last year. Helmberger played 173 minutes, with a 5-1-0 record, 2.95 goals-against average and .894 save percentage.
“Kyle put in a lot of time this summer,” Archibald said. “Physically, he’s gotten stronger, which is definitely going to help him down the road. He may be logging a lot of minutes.”
Junior Jared Rubado is in the running to back up Helmberger.
“We’ve been very impressed with Jared Rubado,” Archibald said. “Out of all the players, he has probably made the most gains in the offseason. Jared has been working really hard. He’s going to be pushing Kyle. He will probably also get the opportunity to play in a few games.”
Brainerd opens at home Tuesday, Nov. 27, against Fergus Falls in a Central Lakes Conference game.
“We feel confident that this will be another exciting year of Brainerd Warrior hockey,” Archibald said. “Every year we’re getting more and more players to buy into the program, into what we’re doing and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Archibald, who begins his fifth season as the Warriors’ head coach, expects Moorhead, Bemidji and Roseau to contend for the section title, along with Brainerd.
“When you look at the polls, they have us seeded fourth in the section, which is nice because that doesn’t put any pressure on us at all,” Archibald said. “There are going to be four strong programs. It’s going to be a battle. We just need to compete from the drop of the puck in every game.”
■ Warriors roster
Adam Fischer, C, Soph
Tori Miller, C, Soph
Jake Ellingson, F, Jr
Isaac Johnson, F, Jr
Blake Thelen, D, Jr
Logan Rivard, F, Jr
Jeffrey Bymark, D, Sr
Chris Pohlkamp, D, Jr
Jack White, F, Jr
Griffin Campbell, F, Jr
Alex Mimmack, D, Jr
Nate DeChaine, F, Jr
Cole Smith, F, Jr
Reno Fussy, F, Sr
Jed Rusk, D, Sr
Mason Severson, F, Jr
Thomas Stoxen, D, Jr
Jake Donnay, D, Sr
Kyle Helmberger, G, Sr
Jared Rubado, G, Jr
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.