It's a new section, sort of, for the Little Falls Flyers boys' hockey team, which is looking to make its fourth straight Class 1A state tournament trip.
The Flyers have moved from Section 4-1A, which they won the past three seasons, to Section 6-1A. Most of the old 4-1A teams moved with Little Falls to the new section: Wadena-Deer Creek, Prairie Centre, Morris-Benson, Sartell, Fergus Falls and Alexandria.
New to the 6-1A lineup are Detroit Lakes and St. Cloud Apollo. The Flyers and Apollo are both in the Central Lakes Conference. Little Falls defeated Apollo 7-2 last season. The Flyers also topped Detroit Lakes in a non-conference, regular-season match 7-3.
"They took out Willmar and added Apollo and Detroit Lakes," said Flyers head coach Tony Couture. "I know more about DL because we scrimmaged them twice at the beginning of the year. Their numbers are down. I expect everyone in the section to be very competitive this year."
Couture said while Alexandria lost many players to graduation, and has a new head coach in former W-DC head man Scott Woods, the Wolverines are a team to look at as a contender for the section crown.
But the Flyers remain one of the top threats. They return five seniors and 11 juniors from last year's squad that finished 25-5 overall, 14-1 in section play and 14-1 in conference play.
Little Falls outscored opponents 215-74. Of the Flyers' goals, 71 came from Jared Festler. The senior is now playing junior hockey with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL. He owns the Little Falls school record with 136 goals.
While Festler is gone, his old linemates remain in brothers Beau and Ben Hanowski. The two combined for 65 goals and 196 points.
"When you lose 169 points in Festler and Lukas Jorgensen (23 goals, 44 points) my feeling is somebody is going to step up and take those roles," said Couture. "They probably won't score 71 goals, but we'll get someone who will work hard. We don't have a huge team, but we've been playing with a lot of grit and emotion."
Also back for the Flyers is goalie Michael Sperl. As a sophomore he logged 1,444.9 minutes. He finished with an 87.6 save percentage and 2.4 goals-against average. He tallied 486 saves and allowed 69 goals.
"He logged 99 percent of the time," said Couture. "He's gotten better. He did the job he needed to do in the offseason. He went to the Stoppers' goalie camp and worked hard on his conditioning and his angles.
Little Falls Flyers
Head coach: Tony Couture, 15th season
Career record: 190-161-6
Assistant coaches: Jon Majerle, Bob Stark, Bo Corrow, Derek Lindbergh
Conference: Central Lakes
2006-07: 25-5-0 overall
Seniors: Zak Laird (forward), Beau Hanowski (forward), Andrew Lange (forward), Matt Anez (defense), Michael Whitlow (goalie)
Juniors: Ben Hanowski (forward), Michael Sperl (goalie), Izaak Berglund (defense), Logan Kalis (defense), Jordan Gosiak (defense), Jordan Moll (forward), Joe Rydeen (defense), Ben Nelson (forward), Wesley Waytashek (forward), Chris Sylvester (forward), Riley Hirsch (forward)
Additional varsity candidates
Seniors: Sean Haney (defense)
Juniors: Peter Suska (forward)
Sophomores: Mitch Schulte (defense)
"He's coming back a stronger goaltender. We're hoping he can be consistent. That's the one thing he needs to do. He can't allow weak goals and can't allow himself to be inconsistent."
Look for Michael Whitlow to get ice time between the pipes this season, too. The senior played 111 minutes and allowed two goals with 24 saves last season.
Flyers goalies will have an experienced defense in front of them. Back are Izaak Berglund (29 points), Logan Kalis (18), Jordan Gosiak (12) and Matt Anez (16).
Unfortunately for the Flyers, Berglund has a separated shoulder and Ben Hanowski is battling mononucleosis.
"With the absence of Festler our kids have worked that much harder to try to impress people," said Couture. "We've been to the state tournament for the last three years and we won our first conference title last season. We're getting that attitude that we need to get to be a defending conference champion. You have to have a certain attitude."
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5856.
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