Despite having one of the youngest rosters in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference last season, the Gustavus men’s hockey team was able to make it back to the MIAC Playoffs after finishing fourth in the league at 15-10-2 overall and 8-6-2 in the MIAC. Being young is no excuse for the Gusties this season, as Head Coach Brett Petersen returns 75-percent of his goal scoring production from last season to the ice for the 2011-12 campaign.
“We had 17 new guys last year. We add what I would consider a more ‘normal’ sized freshman class this year season, which will hopefully translate into a more experienced and wiser group,” explained Coach Petersen.
The Gusties will have a few holes to fill after losing of four-year staples Brad Weick at forward, Mitch Carlson and Matt Schugel on defense, and Josh Swartout at goaltender. The program waves goodbye to nearly all of the old guard that played a key role in Gustavus’ NCAA Championship run of 2009 and MIAC Championship of 2010 with last year’s seniors. Only senior Ross Ring-Jarvi (Anoka, Minn.) remains from those squads and it is he that this year’s team is built upon.
Ring-Jarvi, who is also the only senior on the roster, has played 86 straight games for the black and gold, recording 35 goals and 62 assists for a total of 97 points. The senior winger led the Gusties in scoring last season with 26 points (9G, 17A), finishing with a team-high plus/minus of +12. Ring-Jarvi finished 11th in the MIAC in scoring.
“We are going to lean on Ringo up front to lead this team. Being the only senior, it’s definitely his team this year,” said Petersen. “He’s had a terrific career so far and has had a great off-season leading up to the year.”
Along with Ringo, Gustavus also brings back six of its top eight forwards from last season. Ryan Johnson (Blaine, Minn.) came on strong at the end of last season, scoring eight points in the last eight games to finish second on the team in scoring with 21 points (10G, 11A). Ring Jarvi and Johnson’s linemate Zach May (So., Prior Lake, Minn.) returns to the lineup after recording 17 points (8G, 9A) and finishing third in the MIAC in rookie scoring last season. Fellow sophomores Gustav Bengtson (Sollentuna, Sweden) and Adam Smyth (Burnsville, Minn.) round out Gustavus’ top-five returning scorers, tallying 16 and 15 points, respectively, last season.
Filling out the top forwards is Dane Erickson (Jr., Woodbury, Minn.), Sam Blaisdell (Jr., Inver Grove Heights, Minn.), Mark Jackson (So., Bixby, Okla.), and Brian White (Fort Frances, Ont.). Erickson scored 14 points (7G, 7A) last season alongside Bengtson and Brad Wieck on a dangerous fourth line, while Blaisdell, Jackson, and White added depth to Gustavus’ grinding second and third lines.
Juniors Tim LaBombard (Bloomington, Minn.) and Henrik Reisvang (Nesbru, Norway), and sophomore Ilya Kravtchouk (Palisades, Calif.) were staples of the blue line last season and will likely see their roles’ elevated this year. Others looking to fill in the gaps on defense are Andrew Peterson (Jr., Reno, Nev.), Joey Olson (So., Warroad, Minn.), and Patrick Hurley (So., Dellwood, Minn.).
“The big thing for all of our defensemen is consistency. Being able to improve that aspect of their game with a year under their belt will go a long way,” said Petersen of his defensive unit that will provide the team with a solid mixture of experience and size. The Gusties gave up an average of 2.74 goals per game last season (5th/MIAC).
With depth at forward and defense accounted for, Coach Petersen is not shy about the elephant in the room. With the loss of four-year netminder Josh Swartout, who played in 75 games in his career and going 45-25-5, Gustavus will need to address the goalie situation from the get-go.
“Looking at it, our biggest area of concern is at goalie due to the number of minutes our current staff has played. It is our most inexperienced position and a situation we will have to address early,” commented Petersen.
Junior Tyler Venne (New Hope, Minn.) is the most experienced goaltender returning. Venne went 4-1-1 with a goals against average of 2.62 and a save percentage of .895 last season. Newcomer John McLean (Eagan, Minn.) – who at 6’ 8”, looks to be a viable option at center for Gustavus’ men’s basketball team, will look to make an impact in his first year wearing the three crowns. McLean was named Goaltender of the Year for the Superior International Junior Hockey League last season while playing for the Wisconsin Wilderness.
Along with McLean, freshman forward Jack Walsh (Mahtomedi, Minn.) is one of eight rookies that come to campus with junior hockey experience.
“It is the oldest freshman class we’ve ever brought in,” said Petersen of his 2011-12 freshman class. “With all the incoming guys coming in with a minimum of a year of junior hockey under their belts, I expect our young personnel to be a good compliment to our returning group.”
The Gusties, who outshot their opponents by an average of 34.9-to-26.4 per game last season, scored an average of 2.93 goals per game (6th/MIAC). Gustavus finished sixth in the league on the power play (23/135, 17%) and sixth on the penalty kill (85/107, 79.4%).
“We have a tendency to able to put pucks on net. I hope with a year more experience that our guys don’t hit the mid-section of the goaltender every time, and they start to pick out holes,” joked Petersen.
Although on-lookers will most likely see the same “tilt-the-ice” style of play from the Gusties, Coach Peterson expects his squad to move the puck up and down the ice with more speed this season. Now with a year in the system, Gustavus’ returners will need to dictate play and set the tone in every game.
“It will be interesting to watch, especially with our second-year players, whether or not the taste that they got last year is enough to drive them to take the next step,” said Petersen of the expectations of his returners.
The Gustavus men’s hockey team will begin its 2011-12 tour on Oct. 28 and 29 at the MIAC Showcase held at the Super Rink in Blaine, Minn. The Gusties will take on Saint John’s on Friday at 8:00 p.m. and Concordia on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. The following weekend, Nov. 4-5, Gustavus travels to De Pere, Wis. to face St. Norbert on Friday at 7:00 p.m. before heading to Stevens Point, Wis. to battle UW-Stevens Point on Saturday at 7:00 p.m.
“It will be interesting to watch and see how we do at the start of the season. Only three of our first thirteen games are at home, which will be a big test for this team. If we can survive that with a little more seasoning, I think we’ll survive,” Petersen said.