Hockey coach: Wolverines must get physical to win
Dan Savoie will be sending his Wadena-Deer Creek Wolverines into action Tuesday with a message -- get physical.
It is not that Savoie doubts the talent of his WDC skaters but having had a look at the competition he knows that aggressive play on the ice will make or break the Wolverines this year. The club will not be able to depend on the physical presence of players like Joey Osborn or Joey Peters.
The Wolverines, who are coming off a 12-13-1 season, have a varsity roster with a lot of new faces.
Tyler Muehler, one of the team's best players from the 2008-09 season, will be back in goal for the Wolverines. Savoie does not like to name his goalies as team captains but Muehler has proven to be a captain in every way.
"He has shown me so much leadership early in the season," Savoie said.
Muehler was an all-conference honorable mention choice last year as he split the lion's share of the goal-tending duties with Allen Uselman.
Other seniors on this year's club include defenseman Kyle Beiswenger and captain Brandyn Swanson, who will be depended on for their leadership.
The Wolverines saw one of their top scorers last year join the Brainerd Warriors in the off-season. They also lost top gun Trevor Ness and first-liner Dylan Carlisle to graduation.
What this creates for the Wolverines is a new first line, which will be centered by Swanson with juniors Colter Pettit and Taylor Bienusa on the wings. Pettit will be playing varsity hockey for the third year and is a team captain.
"I expect him to be my top scorer," Savoie said. "He has great balance."
Bienusa had a nice showing for the Selects last year and has the drive to become one of the club's top scorers this year.
Savoie is counting on big Tyler Schmitz to give him some physical play on the point. Junior forward Ryan Johnson and junior center Duke Harrison will play the same roles -- the guys who go into the corners and jam home pucks in front of the net.
Junior Oliver Purup is a foreign exchange student from Denmark who Savoie says has "good size but doesn't know it yet." Purup is the kind of player the Wolverines will need for his physical play.
Junior forward Brennan Wallace is a key player on this year's squad. Wallace could "unlock a lot of things" as a forward on WDC's second line.
"He'll have to put a lot of pucks in the net," Savoie said.
Muehler will be WDC's No. 1 goalie this year but junior Dylan Isola is expected to be in the net much more.
One of WDC's strongest players will be sophomore Logan Meyer, a defenseman who played excellent hockey for the Selects last year and performs more like a senior than an underclassman.
The Wolverines will have forward/defensemen in sophomores Trenton Wollenburg, David Najjar and Nick LeTourneau and forwards in sophomores Matthew Spar and Mason Freeman. Savoie has already nicknamed Wollenburg "The Bull" for his style of play. Najjar will fill a utility role for the Wolverines because of his versatility and toughness. LeTourneau is one of the new varsity members who will transition quickly because of his good puck-handling skills. Spar is expected to be a quality player once he adjusts to the speed of varsity play. Freeman is a "go-getter" who, like LeTourneau, can handle the puck well.
Savoie complimented George Behl's Bantam-level coaching of the younger players on his team. Savoie will have Al Ness and Pat Boline as his assistants this season.
Section 6A favorites this year shake out as being Sartell and Alexandria with newcomer Willmar regarded as a darkhorse. Savoie finds it nearly impossible to pick a conference favorite because of the great balance in the Mid-State. Park Rapids, Northern Lakes and Detroit Lakes will also put good squads on the ice.
"You could take the whole thing, put it in a bag and draw out a name and that is your winner," Savoie said.