NEW ULM - When you enter the New Ulm Civic Center for a New Ulm High School boys' hockey game, be sure to pick up a program as you enter. You may need it.
"This season I will have 21 sophomores on the team," said New Ulm coach Erik Setterholm, who guided the Eagles to a 17-13-0 mark last year and their third straight trip to the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament. "Two of those players - Wyatt Peterson (10 goals, 13 assists) and Brandon Helget (four goals, eight assists) - played on the Eagles' varsity last year as freshmen. So this is definitely a rebuilding year for us. We graduated some pretty good players."
Back in net is junior Brach Kraus, who posted a 1-5 record last season with a 2.84 goals against average along with an .878 save percentage.
"I do like the fact that he is back, because I think that everything starts with your goaltending," Setterholm said of Kraus.
Setterholm said that Kraus will be backed up by Matt Berkner and Jordan Kokesch.
"I watched Matt play some Bantam A games last year and he is a very good goalie," Setterholm said. "He is a sophomore... He is a big kid, really smooth. Unfortunately, he broke his arm in football and he is out for sure until after Christmas and if he needs surgery - which we will not find out until next week - it might be longer."
Mitch Neid, a senior, is the lone starter back as a defenseman. But he too was banged up in football.
"With Sleepy Eye St. Mary's doing so well in football, we have some players who are banged up pretty bad... And we have kids from Sleepy Eye Public (Berkner) who are also hurt from football. We are going to have to battle through those things early in the year."
Two of the key returning players this season are Blake Neumann, who scored 12 goals and added five assists, and Judd Davis (16 goals, 23 assists).
"Blake broke his wrist last year and that held his numbers down," Setterholm said.
Neumann said that this young Eagles team is one that will be gearing for the end of the season.
"We have a lot of young guys coming up and hopefully they can contribute," he said.
But Neumann understands that for the 21 sophomores, jumping from the Bantams and JV means making big adjustments.
"The speed of the game is faster," he said. "And it is more physical."
He also knows that as three-time Section 3A champions, New Ulm will be targeted during the season.
"All of the section teams really want to beat us," he said. "We just need to play hard each game. We just need to get better each game and be playing our best hockey when playoffs come around."
"Our inexperience is going to show early in the year," Setterholm said. "But I think that the strength of our schedule (games against Rochester Lourdes, The Blake School, Mound Westonka) and the Holiday Tournament in Rochester, I expect our kids to be more seasoned by playoff time."
Setterholm looks for the Eagles and LeSueur-Henderson/St. Peter to battle for the South Central Conference crown. In the Section, the heavy favorite is Luverne, with the Eagles, Hutchinson and Litchfield as dark horses.