The uphill climb may seem never-ending for the Champlin Park boys hockey team, but as they have each and every season, the Rebels don’t seem concerned with the inconsistency of their state.
Take last week for example. Up and out of bed early for practice the day after Thanksgiving, the team headed to Anoka for a workout they had hoped would take place on the ice.
A scheduling snafu, however, pushed the skate back a full two hours. But as the boys passed the time flipping pucks to each other over a cement surface before heading into an exercise room for some dryland, there was no sign of disparage from a situation out of their control.
“It could be better, but we won’t let it bother us,” said senior defensemen Jordan Baker. “We get to play high school hockey. What is better than that?”
It depends who you ask. Down in Eden Prairie, where this week’s season opening opponent enjoys the pleasure of an on-campus facility with multiple ice sheets, an unexpected change in the practice schedule likely wouldn’t have been taken in stride.
At Champlin Park, there is no choice. And the Rebels have learned to live with that.
“We don’t have a building with two rinks, so it kind of is what it is,” said head coach Pat Janostin. “I know we have some obstacles other team’s don’t have to worry about, but with these kids, dealing with it is really easy. They are great. And this is life. In life, you have to adapt and adjust to the circumstances you are dealing with. We’ll do the same.”
Along those lines, the Rebels will take that exact thought process when they do head to Eden Prairie to begin the 2012-13 season at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29.
Their opponent, it would seem, has all the advantages. They practice full time inside the Eden Prairie Community Center, which is home to a banner showing off the 2010-11 Class AA state championship the Eagles won just two seasons ago.
But what the Rebels will cling to when the puck drops isn’t something you can hang in the rafters, or glean from the advantage of practicing in the shadow of their own high school.
Instead, the blue-collar approach Champlin Park will take with them into the southwest corner of the metro area will be befitting of a club that doesn’t care as much when or where it is practicing, just as long as they get the work in.
“We know if we don’t bring it, if we don’t work really, really hard, we could struggle,” Janostin said. “We don’t have the talent everybody else has. But it is amazing when you pull together and really work hard because you can really accomplish a lot. These guys have already shown me they are willing to work hard, and work together. And that is who we have to be, so it is a good sign.”
The Rebels should have the right make-up to begin with. Of their 15 returning players, a third play on the blueline, and two more are goaltenders.
Much of what the team graduated a year ago was scoring, meaning they’ll have to lean on their ability to defend early in the season, and at least in terms of experience, that appears to be where the strength will be.
“Our motto since I’ve been a player here is it starts from the net out,” said Baker. “You can’t win a championship unless you play defense first, and I think we are set up that way. We have the goalies, we have the defensemen, and I think people will see we have the forwards too. But no question we should be good defensively.”
The team was that for most of last year, when Champlin Park rebounded from a 1-6 start to turn in a 12-14 season that ended with a one-goal loss to Osseo in the postseason.
For the season, the Rebels allowed just over three goals per game on average. Senior Tyler Nelson played the majority of the minutes in goal, and each those five returning defensemen were solid in front of him.
The team will be without junior captain Mason Van Tuyl at the start. He suffered a concussion early in the football season and is still recovering.
His absence will be most noticeable on the Champlin Park power play, where he served as a catalyst at the point.
Up front, a host of players will be asked to help replace the scoring lost in the graduation of each of the Rebels’ top four scorers from a year ago.
Bryce Plunkett and Calvin Spencer both had 12 points last year and are the leading scorers back from that team. They will play on Champlin Park’s top line with senior Luke Dalman, who netted seven goals in his junior season.
“They still have a lot of room to grow, but they have shown a lot of positive signs,” said Janostin. “Danny Eggerichs has shown a lot of promise. Max Turgeon played a lot last year, so he is ready to go. And then we have a couple sophomores we think are ready to step in and create some energy.”