By Bob San
Be patient. It will take some time.
That’s the message Maple Grove boys’ hockey coach Gary Stefano sends to Crimson hockey fans this season.
The Crimson achieved phenomenal success the past two seasons, winning two straight conference titles while losing just one game and capping last year with the school’s first ever section championship and state tournament appearance. Most of the top players graduated and top senior defenseman Jordan Gross is playing in the USHL, leaving a very young team with very little varsity experience.
“We lost some good hockey players,” said Stefano. “We lost the top six scorers and some good defenseman and we have to replace a goalie. We scored 169 goals last year and only 27 of those are coming back and out of the 27, Sam Valerius had 16 of them. So we are kind of starting over again. We are not going to score a ton of goals. We will have to win games 2-1 and 3-2.”
Valerius, a junior, and junior Nate Erickson and senior Chris Freemark are the only Crimson who played regular shifts last year. They are back to form the first line.
The other two lines have senior captain Josh Augustine, centering juniors Parker Dean and Aric Kohns and sophomores Josh Passolt skating along side Joe Norenberg and David Brumm. Passolt transferred from St. Louis Park and Norenberg and Brumm were the top scorers on their Bantam A team last year.
“The sophomore line has looked impressive. They led us in scoring this past weekend,” Stefano said.
Junior Jake Abernathy and senior David Corazalla are the other two forwards.
On defense, senior captain Joe Franta returns along with junior Drake Thomsen. Both saw lots of action last winter. Seniors Charlie Thomsen and Nolan Kermode both lettered and are back. Talented sophomore Sam Franta is the other defenseman.
In goal, junior John Danielson saw some action last year as a back-up. He will be the No. 1 goalie with sophomore Calvin McKenney waiting in the wing.
“There are lots of new faces,” Stefano said. “Last year this time we were doing a lot of different things in practice. This year the kids have to learn what varsity level is all about, how quick it is. The key is getting the experience of playing against top teams. It will be slow going. We feel we are going to be young but with what we have we have the potential to put things together.”
The young Crimson will get their baptism under fire during a brutal non-conference schedule. They lost to Wayzata 4-1 and Holy Family 5-2 in the Channel 12 Turkey Trot Tournament last weekend in Plymouth. Both Wayzata and Holy Family are top 15 squads. Maple Grove then hosts Edina Saturday, Dec. 1, and faces Minnetonka and defending state champ and No. 1 Benilde-St. Margaret in December.
“It’s good because it will be a good measuring stick of what you need to do,” Stefano said. “With the tough schedule we should be well-seasoned by the time conference comes around.”
Maple Grove will not be favored to defend its conference title as Blaine, Centennial, Andover and Elk River return strong teams.
“It will be wide open and I don’t think anyone will go undefeated this season,” Stefano said.