It’s another season of transition for the St. Michael-Albertville boys’ hockey program.
This time, instead of transitioning from Class A to Class AA, the Knights are dealing with changes "in house," as a youth program that is really starting to find its stride is now feeding into the varsity team.
Gone are mainstays like Jake Larson and Tanner Martin. Arriving, this year, are players from a Bantam program that saw success at the state level. And in between are seniors and juniors from a program that’s still getting used to playing at the AA level.
“It’s a definite jump, but we’re going to see that change start to happen,” Johnson, in his ninth year at the helm of the Knights hockey program, said. “We will be young this season and there will be an adjustment period for all of our incoming players who are stepping up to the high school level. It is a big jump from bantams to high school, but this group has had success in the past and is familiar with playing in big games. They are an exciting group to watch.”
Leading them is defenseman Connor Spetz, a senior who is currently tops on the team in scoring with 21 points. Spetz has helped the Knights get out to a 3-2 start in the Mississippi 8 Conference and a solid run at the Schwan’s Cup holiday tournament has the team at .500, 6-6-1 overall.
“We feel like Connor, as a two-year captain, is set to have an outstanding year. We’ll rely upon him to be a great leader as we have so many young players both defensively and offensively,” Johnson said.
In net, it’s all about youth, as a tandem tries to fill the void. Kyle Haden and Trent Olson have each had their shot, but both are playing at the varsity level regularly for the first time.
“Ideally, you’ll have one of those two step up and give us regular time,” Johnson said.
Hayden, a freshman, might be the guy. He’s 4-2-1 thus far. Olson is a junior.
In front of them, it’s that young core of Bantams leading the offense. Mitch Bourgerie, a freshman, is second on the team in scoring. Juniors Logan Nelson, Cody Reckard, Chase Bunnell and sophomores Hunter Wilcox, Tucker Bjorlin, Cam Fuerstenberg, Connor Greenwood have all seen time in the rotation.
“When you have a lot of youth, the goal is to just get better as the year goes along and be playing our best hockey by the end of February,” Johnson said. “If we do that, we give ourselves a chance against any of the teams in our section. And we want to compete for the conference championship. That’s always a goal. With three new teams that’s going to be a bigger challenge than ever.”
The Knights skate today against East Ridge down in Cottage Grove. They’ll return home this Saturday, which is Hockey Day Minnesota, to take on a 10-3-1 Rogers Royals team that has emerged as the best in the M8 and in its Class A section.
Puck drops at 7 p.m. at STMA Arena.