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Tomah-Sparta skaters search for scoring punch

Tomah-Sparta skaters search for scoring punch

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Tomah/Sparta defenseman John Christen scored 10 goals and dished off 18 assists last season.

That makes Christen the leading returning scorer from last year’s Tomah/Sparta boys hockey team. It’s both a testament to his ability as a hockey player and Tomah’s lack of proven firepower elsewhere on the roster.

Christen and fellow defenseman Evan Long will lead a Tomah team that’s coming off an 18-5-2 season in 2018-19 but is loaded with inexperience, especially at forward. The 2019-20 edition will debut with a pair of home games Saturday, Nov. 29 during the Tomah Holiday Tournament at Tomah Ice Center.

The Timberwolves were hit hard not only by graduation but by injury. Boone Mathison led the team in scoring as a sophomore last season (26 goals, 13 assists) but will miss his junior season with a shoulder injury. Coach Todd Kirschbaum said Mathison’s absence leaves a huge void in the offense.

“We lost 70 percent of our scoring from last year,” Kirschbaum said. “We have to figure out who’s going to score.”

That means the Timberwolves will rely heavily on defense and goaltending. Few teams will have a better pair of first-string defensemen than Christen and Long, both juniors.

“Having Jack and Evan back is really important,” Kirschbaum said. “They’re great skaters, and they’re pretty disciplined.”

Kirschbaum lost seniors Jagger Hammer and Alex Sprackling to graduation, and it isn’t clear who will fill their skates. Kirschbaum said senior Eric Avoles is most likely to claim the third spot, while sophomores Jackson Dawley and Brody Ehlinger and freshman Ethan Leiser are the top candidates to take the fourth spot. The only other defenseman on the roster is freshman Nick Amberg.

Kirschbaum believes he has a pair of solid goaltenders in Gavin Hammer and freshman Jake Berry. Hammer played behind graduated senior Paul Vender last season and posted an .897 save percentage in three games.

Only four letterwinners − seniors Matthew Holtz and Dawson Cruz, junior Danny Amberg and sophomore Adam Thompson − return at forward. Holtz was the leading scorer of the group with 10 goals and 12 assists.

Junior Mitchell Erickson and freshman Joe Venner are the leading candidates to complete the first two lines.

Competition is wide open for the final three regular spots at forward. Kirschbaum said seniors Noah Zimmerman and Eric Wilcox-Borg, sophomores Karson Hoag and Garrett Pedersen and freshman Conlan Yourell are the frontrunners.

Juniors Charlie Lisi and Daniel Lofgren; sophomores Keegan Kehren, Seth Kenyon, Charlie Joyce, Garrett Opper and Alex Andros; and freshman Jonathon Pipkin will likely skate with the junior varsity.

Kirschbaum acknowledged that his team will need to win low-scoring games. One of his goals is to keep opponents below 20 shots a game.

Only three teams are in the Mississippi Valley Conference, and it’s unlikely that the Onalaska/La Crosse Central/La Crosse Logan mega-cooperative will be dislodged from the top spot. Kirschbaum said the goals are to keep improving and record a second straight winning season.

Returning as assistant coaches this season are Oakley Moser, whose father coaches the Black River Falls/Tomah girls co-op, and Duncan Peterson.

Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio can be reached at steve.rundio@lee.net.

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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