There were no bold predictions coming from the St. Thomas men’s hockey team as it prepared to open its second season at the Division I level against St. Cloud State on Saturday night at St. Thomas Ice Arena.
But a major roster turnover is only part of the reason why the Tommies are confident this season will prove to be more rewarding from a win-lose perspective that last year’s 3-32-1 campaign.
“You can tell that there’s a different identity,” said senior forward Luke Manning, a Stillwater native. “We still need to establish that identity in a game, but we’re more of a skilled team. We’ve got a better flow to our game. Being able to translate that to the ice this first weekend is going to be important to us.
“We’re kind of treating it like there’s no more excuses this year. We’re expected to compete with top-end teams, and we’ve got plenty of them on our schedule. If we don’t compete with them, it definitely will be a disappointment for us.”
The Tommies’ roster includes 12 freshmen, and head coach Rico Blasi said they all will get a chance to play right away. “They all have some unique skill set that they bring to the team.” he said. “That was all part of our madness in the lab — we need to have this, we need to have that.”
One player who would seem to have a shot at adding some scoring punch right away is Lucas Wahlin, a Hill-Murray grad who scored 31 goals for Lincoln in the USHL last season.
“Lucas committed to us really early,” Blasi said, “and he just had a great year in the USHL. He really popped.”
Manning led the Tommies last season with eight goals, so finding some more offensive production is a must.
“We’ve got the makings of guys who can put the puck in the net,” Blasi said. “It’s just a matter of getting up to speed on playing major college hockey.”
The goaltending will be in the hands of a pair of freshmen, Aaron Trotter, from Victoria, British Columbia, and Ethan Roberts, from Cary, N.C.
“We’re definitely not worried about our goaltending,” Manning said. “They fact that they’re freshmen, we’re confident they will be able to step in and have an impact right away. The veteran presence we have on defense will be huge for us, too. We’ve got some big bodies back there now, too, so we definitely can play physical.”
Along with the 12 freshmen, three other defensemen committed to the Tommies but have elected to play another year in the USHL before joining the program. Blasi and his staff added three veteran defensemen through the transfer portal.
“We needed to make sure we had that stop gap,” Blasi said. “We added guys who are a little older, and while they might not have a lot of game experience, they come from good programs and practiced against high-quality players. So we feel they can help us compete on the back end.”