Young Panther boys hockey ready to take the ice

Football injuries deplete hockey roster

The Lakeville North boys hockey team is getting an infusion of young talent this season.

“On any given night, we might dress up to 10 sophomores,” head coach Trent Eigner said. “But I like the makeup of our team, the mix of young and old. It’s going to a make us a competitive group.”

A group of successful young hockey players join returning players Tristen Hazlett, Connor Hyden, Erik Rutt and Jack Diercks, who all had double-digit points in 2011-12 on varsity.

Rutt leads the defensive core with up-and-coming sophomores Jake Sadek, Jack McNeely, Angelo Altavilla. They will play in front of new varsity goalies Pierce Wilson and Ryan Bissonett.

“I think it would be unfair to label the goalies as a strength because they’re young, but they’re really good goaltenders,” Eigner said. “I certainly don’t see them as a weakness. They’re the real deal.”

On offense, newcomers Nick and Jack Poehling will provide some reinforcement.

A few hockey players were on the football team that played in the state championship game Friday, including Ian Klotz, Hyden, Alex Wood and Alec Larson. Wood would have been one of the Panthers’ top defensemen, but he’s out for the season with an injury suffered during the state football final.

Eigner pulled some positives from the fact that several important players were still playing football four days before the first hockey game.

“We asked them to take their focus off hockey,” Eigner said. “We were their biggest fans. The flip side is that we got a lot of young kids in the scrimmages that normally wouldn’t have played. Realistically, it’ll be a few weeks before they knock off their rust. They’re competitive kids that are used to winning. They’re a welcome addition.”

Eigner is entering his second season as the head coach. The Panthers were 14-14 last season and made it to the Section 1AA final.

“The key thing is we had the opportunity to work through the summer and to get involved with the youth programs,” Eigner said. “The kids have a far better understanding of what we’re after with discipline and work ethic. We also, as a coaching staff, have a better understanding of our strengths and weaknesses.”

The Panthers started their journey with a trip to Rochester Mayo on Tuesday, winning 3-0.

Rochester Century will pay a visit in the home opener at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The South Suburban Conference opener is at home against Apple Valley on Dec. 8.

The schedule also features non-conference games against annual contenders Eden Prairie (Dec. 13), Hill-Murray (Jan. 17), and Duluth East (Feb. 7).

“If you look at the strength of the schedule, we’ve beefed it up,” Eigner said. “Now with a younger program, that presents its challenges, and that’s a good thing.”