By Rob LaPlante
When you lose your all-time goal scoring leader and you’re starring at one of the most difficult schedules in program history, the outlook for the 2012-13 St. Michael-Albertville boys’ hockey season would appear to be on thin ice.
Gone from last year’s team is all-time leading goal scorer Jake Larson, who scored 26 goals each of the past two seasons and 63 over his career. Larson was an all-metro honorable mention player last season who helped the Knights post a winning 13-12-1 record playing their first season in Class 2A.
“It was our first year in Class AA and we were tied 1-1 after one period,” said head coach Jerr Johnson, referring to last year’s 10-1 section quarterfinal loss to Andover. “It left a bad taste in our mouth. We saw we could compete with those top teams. But we also saw there is a different strength and speed in the game to compete with those types of teams for three periods.”
With a huge scoring void left by Larson’s departure, the Knights will rely on senior forward Jon Gibbs’ 25 points (7 goals, 18 assists) and David Anderson’s 10 goals and 18 points.
“Larson is a big loss, not only from an offensive production, but in the locker room. He was a great leader,” Johnson said. “We have big expectations this year from both Jon and David. They’ve been here three years now and played as sophomores and had some success.”
Anderson returns as the leading returning goal scorer and Gibbs’ 25 points leads all players coming back.
Gibbs, along with senior Cade Gamrath and junior Connor Spetz will serve as captains and Gibbs said he’s looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead for both he and his teammates.
“Losing Jake is huge, but I think we have more character guys this year,” Gibbs said. “For me, if we need a big goal in the third period I expect myself to be out there and hopefully give our team a chance of winning.”
Unlike last year, this season the Knights are hoping to stay healthy. Gibbs missed five games a year ago with a concussion and Spetz was limited to five games due to a shoulder injury.
“We’re looking for big things from Connor,” Johnson said. “A lot of the guys on our team would say he’s our best player. He can only have two linemates and at the 2A level, you need to have a couple scoring lines and a third line that can shut some top guys down.”
The Knights return starting goaltender Matt Borgen, a senior who split time in net with the departed Andrew Semo. Borgen and the cast of five returners on defense, which includes, Gamrath, Mitchell Schneider, Aaron Michaelson, Matt Kisch and Zac Borgen.
“We have a great goalie and we only graduated one defender,” said Gamrath, who led all defensemen in scoring a year ago with 4 goals and 15 points. “We’ll have a lot of security back there and a lot of confidence. I feel pretty good about our defense.”
Plenty of leadership exists from senior’s Gamrath, Anderson, Gibbs, Borgen, Michaelson, Schneider, Nate Fischbach and Blake Hanson. But scoring will have to come from more than just the upperclassmen if the Knights are going to challenge for an M-8 title.
“We have sophomore Tyler Hayes who could step in and junior Brett Marshall and senior Mike Ryan, who works his tail off every night,” Johnson said. “We also have Cory Kackman, a junior playing his first year of high school hockey having a nice camp for us.”
The Knights are hoping to contend with M-8 teams like Rogers and Buffalo, as well as compete with Section 7AA powers Duluth East, Andover, Elk River, Cloquet and Grand Rapids.
“This year is our toughest schedule,” Gibbs said. “We’re bringing a lot of bigger teams in from bigger towns, so we should draw a lot more fans. On February 9th we play Duluth East and every time they come to town they bring a lot of fans. It should be a great game.”
The Knights open the season with five consecutive home games. Their season opener is Nov. 27, when they host Forest Lake at 7:30 p.m. at STMA Arena. Thursday the 29th they host Robbinsdale Cooper at 7 p.m. Robbinsdale Armstrong, Cambridge-Isanti and Sartell-St. Stephen close out the home stand.
“As we keep moving up in 2A, our schedule is going to keep getting tougher,” Gamrath said. “Rogers and Buffalo have always been our top rivals. Last year was our first ever sweep over Buffalo and I think we can do it again this year as well as compete with Rogers.”