If there's one thing the La Crescent High School hockey team has going for it this season, it's senior leadership. The Lancers return six seniors, including two goaltenders who shared starts last season, as well as a handful of juniors and a couple sophomores who'll be vying for ice time.
La Crescent is coming off a 2010-11 campaign where it finished 10-12-2, just below head coach J.P. Piche's goal of finishing with a. 500 winning percentage, but good enough to host a first-round home playoff game, which it lost to St. Peter/Le Sueur-Henderson/Le Center/Mongomery-Lonsdale. But Piche (104-187-9 in 14 years as head coach) believes the team can reach its goal of once again securing a postseason home game.
"We've got a nice core coming back and a nice group of young kids who we will need to get battle tested to play at the level they need to," he said. "We graduated a few seniors that we're going to have to fill some holes for, and we lost Troy (Traxler) due to that (football) injury, so that's another hole we're going to have to fill, so we're going to have to play every shift at 110 percent and keep the great work ethic up and keep plugging away."
This season, the Lancers will feature seniors Brandon Guzman and Jared Paul on wing, center Kilby Ivers, defenseman Jared Witt and goaltenders Tori Taylor and Zach Kristoff. They'll be supported by junior wingers Austin Klingsporn, Jevin Dorschner and Nick Moser, and sophomore wing Justin Paul and defenseman Jason Witt.
Piche expects - and needs - younger players like sophomore wing Nathan Boma, freshman centers Austin DeBoer and Noah Salow, and eighth graders Kyle Colsch and Zack Hanno to also contribute this season.
"We're going to have to play a few younger kids who are going to have to step up right away," Piche said. "They're doing fine in practice, but practice isn't a game situation, so it's going to be a big step, and hopefully they'll be ready for that challenge."
An obvious goal for the year is to win more games than you lose, Piche said, but he also expects the Lancers to stay competitive and play a full three periods every night, learn new skills and improve along the way.
"We have eighth graders all the way up to seniors, so there's a big age gap, so we're going to have to come together as a team and keep working," he said. "I really won't know what we have until the first few games."
But he knows he has some strong returning players like his two goalkeepers, and a talented senior class, but success might hinge on the team's depth. That's why it's important for the younger players to step into the starting lineup and play well.
"Number one is stay healthy and number two is keep improving everyday," Piche identified as the keys to success. "We just need to keep working, working and working everyday to get better."
The Lancers open their season tomorrow (Friday) at 7:15 p.m. at Onalaska. Less than 24 hours later at 1 p.m., they travel back to the Omni Center, this time to face Holmen/Aquinas/G-E-T.