Derek Frentz doesn’t want to look too far ahead, but it’s difficult not to think about how close the Mankato West boys hockey team was to reaching its ultimate goal last season.
“We were very disappointed with what happened last year,” the Scarlets senior forward said. “As soon as the season ended, we were ready to get to the next season and try to accomplish what we didn’t finish.”
West went 22-6-0 and lost to Rochester Lourdes in the section championship game. The Scarlets just might be the favorite this year, though.
Ranked No. 8 in Class A, according to Let’s Play Hockey, the Scarlets return the top eight scorers from last year, including Frentz, who scored 38 goals and 70 points. That group also includes the team’s top three defensemen from a year ago, and both goaltenders are back as well.
“Last year, there was some inexperience,” Frentz said. “Everyone was kind of young. The difference is experience.”
That includes some high-level play this fall. Frentz and sophomore defenseman Tyler Jutting played more than 20 games in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League. Several other Scarlets participated in other fall leagues.
“I think that will help,” Frentz said. “You find out how hard you have to work at an elite level to keep up with that pace. My expectation is to keep things at that pace. I hope that reflects on the entire team.”
The senior-dominated Scarlets also return forwards Galt Goettl and Nick Campbell, each of whom finished last season with 49 points. Defensemen Scott McKissick and Max Mettler had 33 and 23 points, respectively. Zach Erickson had 14 goals and 23 points, and Cole Filler had 10 goals and 14 points.
Goaltender Jake Spiess went 10-5 with a .904 save percentage during the regular season.
“We have high expectations this season,” coach Curtis Doell said. “We return everybody but three guys who played in that section loss. The big thing is keeping our focus. Just because we played in the section final doesn’t mean we’re guaranteed to get in the section final again.”
As for the underclassmen, sophomore forward Tyler Loe had 25 points last season, and Jutting had 18 points. Junior goalie Conor Wollenzien split time with Spiess and was 12-1 with a .895 save percentage.
Doell said the team may have more depth than the 2007-08 team, the only West team to win a section title and qualify for state.
Loe and Erickson are out with injury, but when they return, the coach said, he believes he has two No. 1 forward lines and two No. 2 lines.
“I think the biggest thing is work ethic,” Doell said. “You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t work hard ...”
Frentz agreed, which is why he doesn’t want to think too much about the postseason. For now, the focus is on tonight, when the Scarlets open the season against rival Mankato East/Loyola.
“We have high expectations, obviously,” he said. “I just hope we don’t get too distracted by them and we keep our focus on the basic stuff and our team goals.”