Junior Hockey: Willmar WarHawks ready for a breakout – West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — The Willmar WarHawks have sported a profitable report in each and every of the closing two seasons.

Pulling that feat off a 3rd 12 months in a row isn’t reasonably excellent sufficient for the 2022-23 NA3HL junior hockey season. Willmar is hoping to wreck in the course of the glass ceiling and make a deep postseason run once you have knocked out within the first spherical of the Fraser Cup playoffs closing season.

“We want to build off the success we’ve had the last couple years and get over the hump that we’ve been stuck at come playoff time,” mentioned first 12 months head trainer Connor White. “Our expectations are extremely high and the boys know that coming in.”

The WarHawks open the common season at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on the Armadillo Deck Sports Arena in Sauk Rapids in opposition to the protecting West Division champion Granite City Lumberjacks.

The Lumberjacks made the Fraser Cup championship, dropping 4-0 to the Rochester Grizzlies.

“Granite City’s always good; they’re hard to play against,” mentioned Michael Sweetland. The ahead from Stillwater was once named Willmar’s captain.

Sweetland added, “They’re fast, they’re physical. I expect that from them this year. We just have to go out there on Saturday and give it to ‘em. Be just as physical as they are and just as fast as them. It should be a good game on Saturday.”

This is White’s first head-training revel in after serving as an assistant trainer below Kirk Olimb closing season. Olimb left the WarHawks to develop into the pinnacle trainer at Division III Concordia-Moorhead.

White mentioned he doesn’t plan on converting a lot systematically after Willmar went 32-14-1 in 2021-22. Instead, he needs to peer an building up in depth.

“I want to make sure the intensity is up this year and the dedication to winning hockey games and ultimately developing, too, to move on to the next level for these guys,” White mentioned. “They want to be moving up to the North American (Hockey) League and college hockey.

“I think with the combination of everything, it’s just going to push the mentality of high intensity and getting better every day.”

Sweetland added, “Coach White’s a little bit more intense. He expects a lot out of us. He’s excited to have us here and he’s excited to be a head coach.”

Nine avid gamers go back from the ‘21-’22 season, led by means of six forwards: Sweetland; Tyler Misialek (Fargo); Gunnar Sibley (Monticello); Max Cohen (Commerce, Michigan); Shawn Ohlenschlager Van Coller (Rosemount); and Marcus Mack (Madison, Wisconsin).

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Willmar’s Michael Sweetland (21) tries to glue on a saucer cross to teammate Jordan Fjosne (26) all over a NA3HL hockey sport in opposition to Alexandria Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021 on the Willmar Civic Center.

Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

“We got a good group here,” mentioned Mack, who’s the highest returning scorer with 34 issues (12 targets, 22 assists) over 47 video games between the WarHawks and the New Ulm Steel closing season.

Mack persisted, “We got some younger guys but for the most part, they’re starting to get into our system and gel as a team here. It’s pretty exciting to see them grow every day and get a little better.”

Sweetland had 33 issues (12G, 21A) and Misialek completed with 22 issues closing season (13G, 9A).

“They’re coming in already knowing things and are a step ahead,” White mentioned of the ahead staff. “They know what we’ve gone through the last couple years to build the reputation that’s been built and they want to win and get over that hump, too. You can’t really substitute experience.”

At goaltender, Will Kunka returns after going 11-4-0 with a .924 save share in 15 video games closing season. He is from Moorhead. Kunka will fight for enjoying time with rookies Nick Pettman (White Bear Lake), Wyatt Olsonawski (Hallock) and Payton Manccuso (Winona). Olsonawski performed 5 video games with the Great Falls Americans closing season.

“It just gives a lot of guys confidence knowing that you’re going to have somebody like (Kunka) as the backbone,” Mack mentioned. “He already knows the expectations and the pace of play every night. It’s definitely a big confidence booster that he had success last year and will try to replicate that as much as he can again this year.”

The defensive pairings are a query mark for the WarHawks, with simplest two returning avid gamers in Spencer Clark (Albert Lea) and Brady Fairbanks (Oakdale). The blue line may have a native participant within the combine in Benson’s Tyler Hadfield. White could also be having a look for a defensive spice up from Ben Tarlton (La Porte, Texas) after he performed with Granite City closing season. Tarlton had temporary stints with Willmar in ‘19-’20 and the North Iowa Bulls in ‘20-’21.

“He comes in with some veteran presence and a lot of games under his belt,” White mentioned. “He’s played some important games, including the Fraser Cup games last spring, so we’re certainly looking to him to make a big difference as a 20-year-old.”

The WarHawks’ house opener is Saturday, Oct. 1 in opposition to the Alexandria Blizzard.

Through the outlet weekend, and in the course of the process the season, White is having a look for execution and energy from the avid gamers as they give the impression of being to increase previous simply a playoff berth.

“We’ve been pushing the guys really hard and pushing up the idea that hey, if we work hard now and get the little details down, we’ll get big results,” White mentioned. “So execution on our systems, on our plays and the effort’s got to be there. If we don’t have effort, we have no chance. And if we have effort, we give ourselves a chance to win a hockey game and that’s really all you can ask for.”

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