In scoring personnel, Adam Kimball and the La Crescent High School hockey team are basically starting fresh this season, but a foundation built on three seasoned captains and Kimball’s coaching skills have the Lancers hungry to prove they can still compete.
After spending a few seasons coaching La Crescent youth teams, Kimball joined the high school staff as an assistant to JP Piche two years ago. After Piche, who coached La Crescent for two separate stints beginning in the early ‘90’s, announced in the summer that he would be stepping down, Kimball was the most knowledgeable candidate to replace him.
“These last few years, JP did a really great job, and it’ll be hard to live up to that,” said Kimball at the Lancers’ first practice of the season. “He was doing it for so long, and I learned a lot just by watching him. I’m trying to implement some of his ideas, and a little bit of my own.
Kimball also has experience working with returning assistant coaches Pat Hogan and Ben Tornow, both former Lancer hockey players.
In his first season at the helm for the Lancers, Kimball acquired a much different looking roster than last season’s cast that went 15-10-1. The Lancers have only three seniors on the team, and lost their two top forwards — Carter Schmitz to graduation, and Laudon Poellinger to junior hockey. Poellinger decided earlier this year to forego his senior season to pursue an opportunity with the NAHL Tier 2 Aberdeen Wings, but is currently playing across the river for the Tier 3 La Crosse Freeze.
Seniors Jake Hallback-Kettner, Josh Hackworth and junior Alex Boudreau make up the trio of upperclassmen captains who Kimball expects to step into the leadership roles this season. All three were appointed team captains before the season began, and Kimball is hoping the group will also help fill the production gaps left by last year’s departures
“Those three, they’re our guys,” said Kimball of the three captains. “Definitely our most solid players, along with Gavin Christianson who’s going to be tough in net.”
Poellinger’s early adieu left Hackworth as the lone senior defenseman, which Hackworth said he’s actually looking forward to. According to Hackworth, team chemistry has been an area that La Crescent could improve on from previous years, so the few upperclassmen are making an effort this season to include the younger players in team activities, like when they go out to Applebees together after weekend games.
Like most high school hockey programs in the area, the Lancers don’t have the numbers to field both a JV and varsity team. Kimball said that a shortage of older players left the youth program without a bantam team, causing some younger players to step up early to the high school level.
Kimball said the first few weeks of practice will be the designed at getting the Lancers feet back under them, and the team will do mostly conditioning and fundamental work. Kimball admits the Lancers’ are not the same team they were a year ago, but they have the same goal, which is to be better than they were last season. Hackworth said that seeing the strong efforts from newcomers at the first practice was motivating for the whole team.
“The young guys are already stepping up, and showing us they want to play,” said Hackworth, who played goalkeeper for the Lancer soccer team this fall. “We look small and young, but you never know, we just have to come out hard and string some wins together.”
Probably the most exciting development from the Lancers’ off-season was learning that Eriah Hayes is planning to help with the team this season, as he settles back into his hometown after an NHL career. Kimball said Hayes was expected to start practicing and helping coach the team as early as the first week.
“That’s a big plus,” said Kimball of having Hayes as a resource. “I’ve been bouncing a lot of ideas off him and getting his point of view, which is huge.”
The Lancers will be in good hands consulting with Hayes, who’s NHL goal is depicted by a hand-painted mural in the high school cafeteria.