Junior hockey: Ice Hawks ready to start new season

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Scott Jacobson / sjacobson@postb

Rochester Ice Hawks forward Colby DeCarlo, right, slides to block a shot during an NA3HL playoff game against the North Iowa Bulls last season. DeCarlo is one of a handful of returning players for the Ice Hawks, who open their season Saturday at Breezy Point.

The Rochester Ice Hawks can officially wipe the slate clean on Saturday.

The team’s first season in the North American 3 Hockey League didn’t live up to its hopes or expectations, but the Hawks have churned enough of their roster that they have hopes of getting back to the championship form the franchise is accustomed to.

The Ice Hawks lost some key veteran players prior to last season, as the team was unsure of what league it would play in until late in the summer. They were also unable to get into their locker room at the start of the year because of construction at the Rochester Recreation Center.

But those issues are being left with last season. The Ice Hawks are entering their second season in the NA3HL and have broken in the home locker room.

“I think we’re further along right now than we were at any point last year,” head coach Nick Fatis said. “It’s just because we have the structure back in the program. Last year was being thrown into a grinder.

“This year, after Day 1, we felt like we were so much further ahead. Last year was last year. We’re ready to move forward.”

The Ice Hawks can officially put last season in their rear-view mirror on Saturday, when they open the 2016-17 season at 7:30 p.m. at Breezy Point. The Hawks’ home opener is set for 7:05 p.m. Sept. 17 against the Willmar WarHawks at the Rochester Recreation Center.

“It’s going great so far,” said second-year Ice Hawks defenseman and Rochester Mayo graduate Dylan Boysen. “The guys are working hard. There are mistakes here and there, but we’re working through them to correct them.

“We have definitely put an emphasis on putting last year behind us. We have a good group of new players in here and we’re jelling really well.”

Rochester’s coaching staff — Fatis and assistants Eric Hofmann, Vinnie Susi and Jeff Bolin — have brought in a good mix of veterans and newcomers, including the team’s first-ever 2000-born player, 6-foot, 175-pound defenseman Ryley Cook.

That group has jelled quickly in just more than a week of practice time and Boysen said the Ice Hawks are ready to line up against someone other than their teammates.

“The main goal (Saturday) is to come out with a ‘W’,” Boysen said, “but as long as we’re working hard and moving forward, that’s what we’re looking for.”

The veterans, as well as the newcomers, are aware of how last season ended — with a 10-36-1 record and a first-round playoff loss to eventual league champion North Iowa — and they’re determined to have a better fate this season.

“We have some kids here who have never played competitive hockey like they’ll see here, but they’ve all come in and fit in with the group really well,” said first-year Ice Hawks defenseman Nick Wagner, a 6-foot, 215-pound defenseman who played for San Diego in the Western States Hockey League last season. “Nobody is slacking or lacking on the ice.

“Coming here, this has been very, very competitive.”

Other players back on the Ice Hawks’ roster from a year ago include forwards Spencer Hadacek, Colby DeCarlo, Sam Bjellum, Colin Hass and John Zwarych; and defensemen Andrew Gates and Ian Smyth.

Bruins to host preseason game

The Austin Bruins open preseason play at 7:05 p.m. Friday at home against former Central Division rival Minnesota Magicians. The teams will play again Saturday in Richfield.

Doors will open at 6 p.m. Friday and general admission tickets are available for $5. Season ticket holders and children ages 5 and younger will receive free admission.

The Bruins went 1-6-1 last season against the Magicians, who have moved out of the Central Division this season and into the Midwest Division. Joining Austin in the Central this season are Aberdeen, Brookings, Bismarck, Minot and the Minnesota Wilderness (Cloquet).

Austin has a handful of returning players listed on its roster, including forwards Logan Haskins (Rochester Mayo), Jan Stefka, Michael Piehler, Justin Misiak, Travis Kothenbeutel, Evan Cholak, and AJ Drobot; defensmen Charlie Spetz and Dalton Gally; and goalie Robbie Goor. Rochester John Marshall graduate Brady Meyers, a goalie, is also listed on the team’s roster.

The Bruins open the regular season Sept. 21-24 at the NAHL Showcase at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine.