HANCOCK - Losing all-state goaltender Devin Kero and 40-point forward Zach Hill will not be easy for the Hancock Bulldogs to overcome, but ninth-year head hockey coach Dan Rouleau feels his team will actually be better this season thanks to depth throughout the lineup.
"I think we should be a little more competitive this year," he said. "We have a little more of a veteran team this year - only one senior but a big slew of juniors."
One of those juniors is goaltender William Lucier, who Rouleau described as having good instincts. He'll need to be an anchor in net, but the Bulldogs don't expect him - or backup Jacob Givens - to be faced with as much rubber as Kero was either.
"You don't replace an all-state goalie just like that, but with the type of team we have I don't think we'll be giving up 40-50 shots a game either," Rouleau said. "He's going to have a great defense in front of him. That's our strength."
Junior Kyle Hauswirth, who Rouleau expects to have "a huge year, will lead the Bulldog blue liners, with junior Hayden Heikkinen and sophomore Matt Sanregret also returning after a year of experience under their belts.
"You can definitely notice the guys coming back from last year are a year better," said Rouleau, who noted the team had 25 players try out this year, the second-most during his tenure (26 the highest).
The team is also excited about a pair of freshmen defensemen in Jack Fenton, who has size and a big shot, and hard-working Dylan Paavola.
The Bulldogs are also quite pleased with their forward depth, with the ability to regularly roll three lines and spot a fourth line if needed from time to time. Dylan Hanke, "a very gifted offensive player," according to his coach, will look to follow up his 26-point junior campaign with a stellar season as Hancock's only senior, but he should have plenty of help from teammates.
Juniors Alex Hill (7 goals, 21 assists last year, mostly on a line with brother Zach) Brett Lepisto (11-6=17) and Tony Fisher (1-2=3); and sophomores Zach Ahola (2-0=0), Larry Fallon (2-1=3) and Hunter Kero (1-3=4) all return after getting regular playing time last year, while Tanner Kearly (1-1=2) will move up from defense to forward. Freshmen Casey Nicholas, Isaiah Bekkala, Danny Hill and Jacob Norkol
will all contribute as well. Wade Hanke, who would have been a junior this year, will be playing this year for the Marquette Electricians.
"We did lose a lot of production in Zach Hill and Brett Hauswirth (17 points), but overall first through third line, they're almost all
returning," Rouleau said. "I'll have two pretty good scoring lines, and a lot more depth on the third line. ... Last year our third line was all freshmen."
The Bulldogs almost always start the season with the Copper Island Classic after Thanksgiving, but this year a scheduling curveball has Hancock visiting Marquette at 7 p.m. tonight to kick off the regular season. The Classic will take place next Friday and Saturday against Calumet.
"It's tough because there's a lot of things we didn't work on yet," Rouleau said. "Not huge expectations in this game, but we're going to
find out where we're at right away with Marquette and Calumet.
"It's going to be a very competitive league this year and we have a tough schedule again, but I think we can achieve a winning record with it."