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Shorthanded 'Jackets open final NCHA season by hosting Saints

The season hasn't started yet and the University of Wisconsin-Superior men's hockey team is already skating on thin ice. When the Yellowjackets open the 2012-13 season this weekend by hosting local rival St. Scholastica, they'll be doing so witho...

UWS Men
Universit of Wisconsin-Superior's Brett Meyers (23) takes controls the puck along the boards during last season's game with the St. Scholastica Saints. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

The season hasn't started yet and the University of Wisconsin-Superior men's hockey team is already skating on thin ice.

When the Yellowjackets open the 2012-13 season this weekend by hosting local rival St. Scholastica, they'll be doing so without starting goaltender Drew Strandberg.

Strandberg is one of a trio of injuries UWS coach Dan Stauber is dealing with as the Yellowjackets prepare for their final season in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association.

"We've only been on the ice for five days, and during two of those days we had to get down from 39 guys to 29," Stauber said. "Then on top of that, we have three guys that are injured and one of them just happens to be our starting goaltender."

Stepping in for Strandberg, who started 23 games last season and had a 2.23 goal-against-average, will be either Dennis Nordmark of Vasteras, Sweden or Ryan Pinoniemi of Delano, Minn.

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"It's game time and we have to put somebody in there who's going to give us the best chance to win," Stauber said. "Both rookies will get a shot to play, we'll make that decision later in the week."

The Yellowjackets and Saints are beginning conference play without the luxury of a non-conference or exhibition games.

"We're both in the same situation," Stauber said. "You're allowed one exhibition game, but ours is later in the year when we host the USA U18 National Team. Some teams are playing a game or two before conference play, but you have to just look at it as if we're in the same boat and we'll see what happens this weekend."

The strengths of this year's team were expected to goaltender and defense.

"Our No. 1 strength would have been our goaltender, with Strandberg returning after playing most of last year," Stauber said. "Then our defensive corps basically is back, led by seniors Derek Stauber, Ryan Hill, Chad Blanleil and junior Jeff Forsythe, who all played well last season."

Battling for the final spot in the defensive rotation are sophomore Alec Doig; junior Brad Phenow; sophomore Kevin Clark and freshmen Alec Austin, Christian Belobaba and Brett Wold.

On offense the Yellowjackets will be counting on former Superior Spartan Pat Dalbec, a junior, and senior Kyle Leahy. Dalbec led the team with 13 goals and Leahy led the team with 12 assists.

"Dalbec, Leahy and whoever's playing with them," Stauber said. "We're going to need some secondary scoring, somebody's going to have to step up for us. Right now Tanner Dion's working hard, but it's going to have to be scoring by committee. We're going to need all lines at some point to put some numbers up."

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UWS will try to improve on last year's low offensive numbers. The 72 goals scored a season ago tied a program record for the fewest in a season.

"Our scoring was down last year, the lowest it's been in years," Stauber said. "It's not like we're not trying to score, but maybe we're trying to defend too much. We have to find that balance of scoring and not allowing the opposition to score."

Other offensive leaders include Josh Kesler, Joey Massingham, Andy Singerhouse, Brett Meyers, Cody Hotchkin and Marc Fortin.

Freshmen forwards include Mike Orosey (Rochester, Mich.), Nick Stoskopf (Warroad, Minn.), Sam Perpich (Okotoks, Alberta), Martin Krestan (Zimrovice, Czech Republic), Jack McFarlane (Cloquet), Nick Drill (Madison) and Adam Reichert (Maple Grove, Minn.)

"We tried to get the best kids we could, and if you look I probably have more local kids on our roster than in my previous 15 years," Stauber said.

Justin Faryina, last year's leading scorer, decided to forgo his senior year and is now playing professionally in the Central Hockey League.

The Yellowjackets were picked to finish fourth in the NCHA.

"The polls are mostly for the fans and just a guess of who's going to play well and whose recruits are going to play well," Stauber said. "If anything, it motivates the bottom teams in the poll. They want to prove they belong higher than they were picked.

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"The big thing is the second half of the season. The first half is always up and down; look at Norbert last year, they lost most of their games in the first half, then went on to win the national championship. Everyone wants to be playing their best hockey at the end of the season."

This season will also be the final one for the NCHA as UWS, UW-Stout, UW-Eau Claire, UW-River Falls and UW-Stevens Point voted to leave the NCHA for the WIAC.

"The decision has been made and we just have to move forward," Stauber said. "We want to just focus on this year and finish play in the NCHA strong."

Features on this year's schedule are hosting Nichols College, Curry College and Finlandia for a tournament on Jan. 4-5 and hosting the USA U18 National Team on Jan. 27.

"The tournament should be interesting and exciting," Stauber said. "We don't get to see many eastern teams so having Nichols and Curry here will be great for the fans."

'JACKET JOTTINGS: This year's captains are Leahy and Phenow. ... UWS leads the all-time series with CSS 82-35-9 and has not lost to the Saints in the last seven meetings, including 1-0-2 last season. ... Forsythe was second on the team with eight goals in 2011-12. ... The Yellowjackets, who were 10-10-7 overall and finished fifth in the NCHA at 4-7-7 last year, had their season end with a mini-game overtime loss at UW-Stevens Point.

About the Saints

CSS (15-8-5, 9-5-4 in the NCHA last season) finished second in the league after being picked to finish last in the preseason poll. The Saints advanced to the NCHA Peters Cup Semifinals, before falling to UW-Stevens Point. ... The Saints are ranked 12th in the preseason D3hockey.com poll and have been picked to finish sixth in this year's preseason poll. ... Returning for the Saints is second team AHCA West Region Second Team All-American Brett Corcoran, who was second in the NCHA with 33 points and third with 17 goals. ... Also returning is second leading goal scorer junior Brandon Nowakowski, who finished with 11 tallies a year ago; Tyler Miller, who was third on the team in points (26) and second in assists (16); and sophomore Dave Williams, who was named to the NCHA All-Rookie Team after scoring five goals and adding two assists. ... Back between the pipes is Colin Rundel, who finished second in the league with 655 saves and fourth with a .583 winning percentage. ... Head coach Mark Wick, the winningest coach in program history, enters his ninth season behind the bench for the Saints. Wick is the reigning NCHA Coach of the Year, the second time he has earned that honor in the last four years. .. With senior captain Brenden Bradbury, the Saints have three defensemen with a height of at least 6-foot-5 and weigh at least 225. Seven of the eight defensemen are at least six feet tall.

2012-13 UWS Hockey Schedule

Fri., Oct. 26 vs. St. Scholastica, 7 p.m.

Sat., Oct. 27 vs. St. Scholastica, 7 p.m.

Fri., Nov. 2 at St. Mary's, 7:30 p.m.

Sat., Nov. 3 at St. Olaf, 2 p.m.

Fri., Nov. 9 vs. UW-Stevens Pt., 7 p.m.

Sat., Nov. 10 vs. UW-Stevens Pt., 7 p.m.

Fri., Nov. 16 at UW-Stout, 7:30 p.m.

Sat., Nov. 17 at UW-Stout, 7:05 p.m.

Wed., No. 21 vs. Concordia, 5:05 p.m.

Fri., Nov. 30 at UW-River Falls, 7 p.m.

Sat., Dec. 1 at UW-River Falls, 7 p.m.

Fri. Dec. 7 vs. Augsburg, 7:05 p.m.

Sat., Dec. 8 at Gust. Adolphus, 7 p.m.

Fri., Jan. 4 vs. Nichols College, 7 p.m.

Sat., Jan. 5 vs. Curry College, 7 p.m.

Fri., Jan. 11 vs. St. Norbert, 7:05 p.m.

Sat., Jan. 12 vs. St. Norbert, 4:05 p.m.

Fri., Jan. 18 at UW-Eau Claire, 7 p.m.

Sat., Jan. 19 at UWEC, 7:30 p.m.

Thur., Jan. 24 at St. Scholastica, 7 p.m.

Sat., Jan. 26 vs. UW-Stout, 7:30 p.m.

Sun., Jan. 27 vs. U.S. Under-18 Team (exh), 5:05 p.m.

Fri., Feb. 1 at UW-Stevens Pt., 7 p.m.

Sat., Feb. 2 at St. Norbert, 4 p.m.

Fri., Feb. 8 vs. UW-River Falls, 7 p.m.

Sat., Feb. 9 vs. UW-Eau Claire, 7 p.m.

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