After consecutive trips to the Section 8-2A finals, and winning 44 of 55 games during that span, the Brainerd Warriors appear to have the horsepower to take the program’s next step this winter.
Although Moorhead and Roseau stand in the way, the Warriors return three of their top defensemen, their first line and a bevy of skilled forwards as they attempt to reach the state tournament for the first time in program history.
“Our goals and expectations haven’t changed from last year,” Warriors head coach Jim Archibald said. “Obviously we want to develop and we want to progress toward March, when the state tournament is held. We don’t try to push it onto the guys but you know it’s always in the back of their minds. They would love the opportunity to play in a situation like that. We’re just going to try and provide as much guidance and keep the guys channeling their strengths in the right direction.”
Assistant coach Jim Ernster said the coaching staff must minimize distractions and focus the players only on the next game.
“We have to prevent them from looking too far ahead. We need to focus on the day-to-day skill development,” Ernster said. “All those things are steps in a process toward that end goal but today at practice we need to get better. Tomorrow at practice we need to get better. That needs to be the focus each day.”
Archibald hopes that summer workouts, that were attended by many players, will also help Brainerd take the next step.
“We took out the summer waiver (from the Minnesota State High School League) which gave us the opportunity to work with the players for a couple extra months,” he said. “We felt we had an obligation to the players. We felt that obligation to them was probably more than their obligation to us.
“We’ve got a great group of guys. They showed up, worked hard, had a lot of fun. It wasn’t about developing hockey players. It was about developing athletes. We just felt that was huge for us, and huge for the players.
“We got a lot of good things done that maybe you can’t accomplish in a 3- or 4-month (high school) season, so we’ll see how it plays out this year.
“We have great leadership, not only in our seniors, but in our juniors and sophomores. They get along so well. I think it will be fun to watch these guys, see how they develop, watch them grow not only as hockey players but as young men.”
A position-by-position look at the Warriors:
Seniors Chris Pohlkamp, Billy Desrocher and Thomas Stoxen return. Pohlkamp, an all-conference player, scored 12 goals and added 18 assists. Desrocher and Stoxen both scored a goal and each collected five assists.
“Those three will be the mainstays for our defense,” Archibald said.
Vying for time on the blue line are Tate Motschenbacher, Jagr Miller, Cole Kalenberg, Blake Thelen and Colton Kramer.
“It’s going to be a battle back there,” Archibald said. “There are a lot of different options we can use.”
Leading scorer Logan Rivard (21-24) and second-leading scorer Cole Smith (22-20) return with third-leading scorer Jake Ellingson (19-22) to form the first line. Rivard and Smith were all-conference players.
Also back is fifth-leading scorer Griffin Campbell (6-7), Isaac Johnson (4-6), Alex Mimmack (6-4), Adam Fischer (4-4) Mason Severson (2-2) and Nate DeChaine (2-1) and Matt Blanch (2-1).
“We’re really excited about our forward crew,” Archibald said. “We probably legitimately have 12 forwards that we could insert into any game at any time.”
Others in the forward pool are Matt Casperson, Peter Dahl, Cole Ball, Ryan Hall and Eric Stout.
“We’re confident in this group,” Archibald said. “We feel they have a lot of potential. Probably our deepest position this year will be up front.”
Ernster added, “Not only is there depth but there’s not a lot of drop-off. We’re pretty confident we can kill (penalties) with our third and fourth lines, just to make everyone that much more fresh and that much more effective.”
Senior Jared Rubado and sophomore Brady Mick are dueling to start. Rubado played 154 minutes last season, with a 2-0-0 record, 2.31 goals-against average and .873 save percentage. Mick has not played a varsity game.
“It will be a battle,” Archibald said. “Jared and Brady have been pushing each other, which is nice to see, which gives us some very good options in the back end.”
Freshman Jake Ebinger is the No. 3 netminder.
“Jake will be mainly seeing duties with the (junior varsity),” Archibald said. “We will be working hard with him in his development.”
Seniors: Billy Desrocher (D), Isaac Johnson (F), Nate DeChaine (F), Blake Thelen (F), Logan Rivard (F), Thomas Stoxen (D), Chris Pohlkamp (D), Griffin Campbell (F), Alex Mimmack (F), Cole Smith (F), Jake Ellingson (F), Mason Severson (F), Jared Rubado (G), Jagr Miller (D),
Juniors: Matt Blanch (F), Adam Fischer (F), Peter Dahl (F), Matt Casperson (F), Tate Motschenbacher (D)
Sophomores: Cole Ball (F), Eric Stout (F), Cole Kalenberg (D), Brady Mick (G)
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.
Dec 3, at Alexandria 7:15 p.m
Dec 5, River Lakes 7:15 p.m.
Dec 12, St. Cloud Tech 7:15 p.m.
Dec 13, Monticello 7:15 p.m.
Dec 17, St. Cloud Apollo 7:15 p.m.
Dec 19, at Fergus Falls 7:15 p.m.
Dec 21, Bemidji 7:15 p.m.
Dec 26, at Hibbing 7:30 p.m.
Dec 27, at Virginia 7:30 p.m.
Dec 28, at Grand Rapids 3 p.m.
Jan 4, at Roseau 3 p.m.
Jan 7, Willmar 5:15 p.m.
Jan 9, Moorhead 7:15 p.m.
Jan 14, Sartell 7:15 p.m.
Jan 16, Alexandria 7:15 p.m.
Jan 17, Roseau 7:15 p.m.
Jan 18, at Buffalo 7 p.m.
Jan 21, River Lakes at Paynesville 7:15 p.m.
Jan 23, St. Cloud Apollo at Municipal Athletic Complex 7:15 p.m.
Jan 28, St. Cloud Tech at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center 7:15 p.m.
Jan 30, at Moorhead 7:30 p.m.
Feb 6, at Sartell 7:15 p.m.
Feb 7, Hermantown 7:30 p.m.
Feb 11, at Bemidji 7:30 p.m.
Feb 14, Sauk Rapids 7:15 p.m.