Team: Waconia boys’ hockey
Coach: Dan Benham
Assistant coaches: Mark Grundhofer, Pat Lenton, Jason Miller, and Shane Clausen
Captains: Kevin Kittleson, Alex Tasson, and Blaine Wilsey
Conference: Wright County
Class/Section: Class A, Section 2 – Blake, Bloomington Kennedy, Breck, Chaska, Delano, Minneapolis, Mound-Westonka, Orono, Richfield, and St. Louis Park
2013 finish: The Wildcats held a 9-16-2 record last season, finishing fifth in the WCC behind four state-ranked teams, and winning their first playoff game in team history by defeating St. Louis Park. Waconia went on to fall to the No. 1 seeded team in the next round.
Key losses: Missing from this year’s lineup are All-Conference players Ryan Mattson and Tanner Riebel, along with All-Conference Honorable Mention winners Justin Reinke and Nathan Kovach. Riebel, Mattson, and Reinke were the team’s top three scorers in 2012-13, while Kovach was the team’s go-to goaltender, keeping WHS in games.
Key returnees: Back for WHS is 2013 All-Conference Honorable Mention winner Kevin Kittleson, who along with fellow captains Blaine Wilsey and Alex Tasson, and 11 other senior players, will look to carry the Wildcats this season. Senior Alex Fortwengler is the team’s top returning scorer, while most of the defensive line returns as well.
Cal Rassman, Collin Reus, Tony Fulkerson, Sam Schiffman, Jeff Balow, Chris Haus, and Joe Benson are fan-familiar names that will also see significant ice time.
“Our whole defensive crew is back,” Kittleson said. “I feel like we’re ahead of where we were last year.”
Newcomers: While there is plenty of experience on the ice, there will also be some new faces to the varsity lineup including sophomores Nick Molinari, Alex Carrabre, Mitch Weiland, and freshman Jack Kalenberg. Senior Steven LaDouceur and junior Ian Schrup will battle for time in goal, while both will be new to the varsity level.
Teams to beat: Delano and Holy Family top the captains’ list of teams to beat this season, in terms of the ever-tough Wright County Conference.
“Our conference is strong year in and year out,” Wilsey said.
“Every game is a battle,” Tasson added.
At the Section 2A level, the Wildcats once again expect Breck to be the top team, seeing as the Mustangs graduated very few players last season, while the Wildcats lost 10.
Goals: First and foremost this season, the Wildcats want to play more together as a team from the beginning of the season, a challenge that plagued the team last year. The captains hope this added togetherness will help the ‘Cats improve their overall record, earn a higher section seed, and make a deeper run into the playoffs.
Last season, head coach Dan Benham hoped that this year’s upperclassmen would improve together as a unit, which the captains agree has already been done this season. Kittleson, Tasson, and Wilsey agreed that while last year’s roster boasted multiple talented individuals, this year’s team is deep throughout the lines and fans can expect scoring from many different players.
“I think we’re much deeper as a team,” Wilsey said. “We really want to spread out the points.”
Throughout the season, the Wildcats want to contest every game.
“We’re looking to be a formidable opponent,” Tasson said.
Before the season gets underway, the ‘Cats want to lock down the defense, work on systems, and play together as a team. Waconia has also adopted a new strength training regimen which has the ‘Cats lifting 3-4 days a week.
First games: Once Waconia’s season gets underway this week, it’s full steam ahead until March. The ‘Cats kicked off the season Tuesday night at home against Red Wing. They host Lake of the Woods this Friday, Nov. 29 at 7 p.m.