EVELETH — The Eveleth-Gilbert boys’ hockey team saw over a dozen seniors graduate from their program last year.
While replacing that many players may look like a difficult task, the Golden Bears will have another dozen or so seniors on this year’s roster ready to step in and play tough for E-G.
The Bears will need to replace a lot of scoring power after losing Elliot Van Orsdel, Bryce Kopp, Will Troutwine, Nick Beaudette and Gage Everson — all top five scorers for Eveleth-Gilbert last year. They’ll also be down two very experienced goalies in Noah Shuck and Mack Lautigar.
Six players return to the squad with significant varsity experience from last year, including senior goaltender Andrew Torrel. Junior Nick Troutwine is the top returning scorer for Eveleth-Gilbert after finishing the regular season with 15 points.
Other returning players with experience include senior defensemen Gavin Skelton and senior forwards Brandon Lind, Tommy Schlotec and Cooper Mattson.
Eveleth-Gilbert head coach Jeff Torrel expects all six returning players to fill in on the leadership front.
“We come in with a lot of seniors this year just like we did last year, but this group of seniors doesn’t have as much experience as the ones before them,” Torrel said. “A lot of guys that played JV last year will have to step up for us on varsity and the guys that played varsity last year will need to fill in those shoes left by last year’s leaders.”
Other notable points on the roster include the loss of Brendan Swan, a junior forward who will miss the entire season due to an injury sustained during the football season. When asked about players to look out for that haven’t seen varsity time yet, Torrel named junior Karson Intihar.
“He looks ready to step in for us. We have a few other juniors and seniors who haven’t seen varsity time yet that we’ll have to see where they fit.”
At net, coach Jeff Torrel expects Andrew Torrel to get the majority of the starts but there are two other sophomores moving up from Bantams that will join the varsity team.
“Hopefully they’ll be pushing Andrew a bit and we hope for them to get some time in the net during the season.”
With practices starting up just last week, Torrel says it’s a blessing for some kids and possibly a curse for others when it comes to starting off in shape.
“There are some kids who may have been injured coming off of the football season who are now starting to get healthy and starting to get back in the swing of things. The timing can be good for some and it might be bad for others. We might have some really fresh bodies coming in now but we also might have some kids who maybe took a little too much time off while waiting for hockey to start.”
Torrel says players have had ample opportunity to put on their skates due to the bevy of outdoor rinks and frozen lakes available to skate on this year.
With COVID-19 protocols limiting teams to playing just two games a week for a total of 18 regular season games, Torrel says the games look to be a bit more spaced out compared to normal years.
“Relatively, we’re starting games at the same time — about 10 days into the season, so that’s really no different. Now, we can only play two games a week which is probably a little bit less than what we’re used to. If you look at past years, we probably play closer to two and a half to three games a week.”
In addition, Torrel doesn’t expect much of a “mid-season slump” due to the later start to the season.
“I think around this time of year in a regular season, kids might start to get a little sluggish. It’s right after Christmas break and kids start thinking about spring and just trying to get through the winter. It feels a little different now. The season is just starting. We had to dust off some rust in the first couple of days but the guys look pretty amped up right now and are looking forward to that first game.”
Torrel says the Bears will need to take things one game at a time. Some games are obviously more important than others, but in a season already so drastically changed, the Bears would be better off not getting ahead of themselves.
“I think it’s a day by day thing right now. We have our games that are important. Section games are important for the playoffs. The Virginia games will be big because the boys know we’re not going to have many more of those games as the schools get ready to combine. Things are going to be different with less fans at each game but it’s up to us coaches to make sure the season is still fun for them while keeping an emphasis on discipline, structure and teamwork like we normally do. We want to make sure these kids make some great memories.”
Eveleth-Gilbert’s first game is a road contest at Greenway on Thursday and Torrel says some expectations have remained the same, while others have changed.
“We had a big senior-laden team last year, so I don’t think we’re the same team we were last year. We can’t judge them based off of last year. But we don’t expect any less when it comes to work and effort. The expectation to come ready to compete every night doesn’t change. Last year we were rolling four lines and this year we’ll be lucky to have three. It’s a different year but I don’t think the base expectations change. You expect guys to work hard and try to get better every night.”
Still, the mood remains high as the season is set to get underway in the coming days.
“Everyone’s excited to start the season. It’s different,but it’s still high school hockey in the state of Minnesota and I think the boys are excited to get going.”