NEW ULM - After a disappointing 13-13-1 season that saw the New Ulm boy's hockey team fall 3-2 to Hutchinson in the Section 3A semifinals last year, the Eagles are ready to get back to the state tournament for the fourth time in the last five years.
And they have the experience and the motivation to achieve that.
"The loss to Hutch is something that we as coaches and I know the players did not expect," coach Erik Setterholm said. "That loss has left a bad taste in our mouths all off-season."
That is the motivation.
The experience comes with the fact that New Ulm returns 16 players from last year's team.
The Eagles return key starters in Brandon Helget, Judd Davis, Wyatt Peterson - "they were all right up there in scoring for us," Setterholm said. "And we bring back goalie Brach Kraus which is huge for us also. He has been our starter in goal for the last three years."
Add to that the return of experienced defensemen in Cole Dulas, Lucas Heiderscheidt and Alex Stark.
"All three of these played a regular role for us," he said. "And good defensemen make a good goalie even better."
While the Eagles are just early into practice and the fact that four of their key players - Helget, Heiderscheidt, Cody Gilland and Jon Kopacek - are playing football for Sleepy Eye St. Mary's, Setterholm knows that there will have to be some late line juggling once the Knights' football season is over.
"Davis and Peterson played on the first line last year so we need to find a player to go there," said Setterholm. "We will go three lines for sure and see what we have. This first week of practice do not have the St. Mary's players here so we will not get a good feel for how we will be yet until their season is done."
What the Eagles do know for sure is that they have a solid goaltender in Kraus who, like all of the members of the Eagles, have a bad memory from last year's loss to Hutchinson.
"We have almost everyone back and we all have a sour taste in our mouths from that," he said. "That is going to motivate us all year."
And the Eagles should be well-tested to make a run for the section crown with a very tough non-conference schedule that includes teams like Rochester Lourdes, Northfield, Minnehaha Academy, Providence Academy, The Blake School and a tough Fergus Falls tournament.
"This is probably the toughest non-conference schedule that we have had," said Setterholm. "But that is what we want to get us ready."
New Ulm opens the season Saturday, Nov. 30th at home against Orono at the New Ulm Civic Center.