by Jake Schroer
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
Improvement is the name of the game when it comes to the 2013-2014 STMA Knights hockey team. The team finished last season with a record of 9-16-2, and its final game was an ugly 15-0 loss against Duluth East in the section tournament.
Coach Jerr Johnson enters his ninth year as head coach of the boys hockey team at St. Michael-Albertville High School. He points to growing pains and the graduation of talented players as the cause of the recent struggles.
“Our talent level wasn’t as good last year as we have this year, which is a good thing. Each year, we’ve been getting a little bit better overall, our talent level, so we’re excited where our program is at going forward.”
Two graduates from last year’s team were David Anderson and Jon Gibbs, the points leaders. But, some players have already stepped in for them and had success at the varsity level.
Johnson calls the group coming in this season one of the most talented groups of kids he’s worked with by far. He also praised the youth hockey kids who will one day come up and play at the varsity level.
Key players returning include Brett Marshall, Matt Kisch, Tyler Hayes, and Connor Spetz, who Johnson said will probably graduate as one of the best all-around players he has seen in his nine years as head coach.
The important thing for the season, Johnson said, is to get through some growing pains once again and improve from last year. Johnson said while his team may have a lot of talent, it needs to get more experience because there are several young players coming in.
Another important spot is goaltender. Trent Olson returns from last year’s team, and the Knights also bring in Kyle Hayden, a freshman.
“Ultimately, we’d love to get to where we have a number one that we put in there night in and night out. Right now they’re battling that out, so it’s been a good competition.”
Johnson said there are several young players who can make a difference and open some eyes. These include Mitch Bourgerie, Hayden, and Jack Kelly. Johnson also mentioned the undefeated junior varsity team, and that some of those players could move up before the year is over.
Other players Johnson mentioned were the Bjorlin twins, Tucker and Marshall, Hunter Wilcox, Logan Nelson, Cody Reckard, and Connor Greenwood. He believes all can make an impact as the season goes along.
Building the hockey program, Johnson said, has a lot go into it. The coaches run a summer camp each year in which the players and coaches work hard on and off the ice. Johnson said the players continue to work after the camp is over.
“They continue to train in the offseason between the time that we’re with them in the summer and the start of the season.”
Johnson said his team has some good pieces in place and that his coaching staff will continue to build the team into a hopeful state title contender. The Knights have yet to appear in a state tournament.
Johnson said there might not be a specific “x-factor” on the team. It will come down to what he can get out of all of his new faces. These teaching experiences are his favorite part about coaching.
“Being around the players is ultimately what makes you keep coming back and doing it year after year.”