From Kilgore News Herald
By Dave Selvig
The University of Mary hockey team is looking to go out on a hat track.
Winners of the last two ACHA D2 titles, the Marauders move up to D1 next year and hope to do so with three straight national championships.
Not only that, after the championship banner is raised Saturday night at Starion Sports Complex in Mandan, the Marauders will try to extend the 20-game winning streak they ended last season on.
“I think there always is pressure to maintain the standard we’ve been able to set, whether that’s with the winning streak we’re on, or looking long term, being able to compete for another national championship,” Marauders’ head coach Dan Huntley said. “This team certainly wants to be in that category. They’ve set high expectations for this season and they’re excited to get it going.”
Once again, the Marauders return a loaded roster.
Reigning Player of the Year Kyle Hayden is back between the pipes. The Marauders also return five of their top six point-getters from last season, including Alex Flicek (most points — 52), leading goal scorer (Seth Cushing with 23) and versatile All-American Johnny Witzke (8-22—30).
“We’ve been a little lucky with our young guys that have come on to where it’s just not just one or two players, or even necessarily one or two classes, we’re really dependent upon,” Huntley said. “From year to year, guys get older, they get more experience and are able to grow into bigger roles when they’re ready, instead of just throwing them out there.”
Competition for ice time at every position remains intense and it starts in goal.
Hayden won about every award there was to win last season, and will start the opener Friday. Right behind Hayden is Conan Hayton, who has just three losses in two seasons. He’ll get the call Sunday against Waldorf.
“We have the two best goalies in Division 2,” Huntley said. “They’ll get equal opportunities. They deserve that.”
The Marauders didn’t allow many goals (67) last season and scored a bunch (199).
Goals have come in bunches since the program started and this year figures to be the same. A strong group of returners gets a big boost from a pair of high-scoring Bismarck products in Andrew Huber and Isaiah Thomas. Huber had 21 goals and 11 assists during the 2020-21 season. Thomas is working his way back from a torn ACL last December, but before that had nine goals and 13 assists in 22 games.
“I don’t think any team will be adding two players to their team like Andrew and Isaiah,” Huntley said. “Getting them back is a big shot in the arm.”
With Thomas down this weekend, freshman Tucker Kruse will get a plum opportunity on the first line Saturday with Flicek and Garrett Freeman, who had 22 goals and 22 assists last season.
Another freshman, Liam Massie from California, slides onto the Marauders’ marquee second line with Cushing and Huber.
Another former local high school standout — Caleb Petrie of Bismarck High — is pegged for the third line with two more talented returners in Tanner Eskro and Jared Hugelen. Eskro had 12 goals and 27 assists last season and was stellar in the postseason. Dickinson’s Hugelen netted eight goals and dished out 10 assists last year.
Returners Braeden Zaste (4-7—11) and Derek Dropik (6-6—12) will lead the fourth line with another freshman, Jack Dapron from St. Louis, earning some early ice time.
The Marauders’ top blue line pairing is as good as it gets. Drew Lenertz, another BHS product, has played in all 192 games in the program’s history.
“It’s an unbelievable achievement, what he’s done,” Huntley said of Lenertz. “He’s a rock.”
Next to Lenertz is Witzke, who could easily stake a claim as the best all-around player at the ACHA level.
“He can play anywhere and has,” Huntley said of Witzke.
Riley Scanlon, a center the last two years, drops back and will play on the second line of D with Lucas Medeiros, a newcomer from Toronto. Cyril Nagurski, another of the eight players from Bismarck on the roster, and Ryan Wolf are another blue-line pairing. Jake Murray, whose uncle Rem Murray was an assistant captain for the Edmonton Oilers in the early 2000s, also will get a shot.
The Marauders’ schedule is tough with 14 games against D1 teams. Their previous high against top-tier teams was eight.
“It will give us a tell-tale about what we’re looking at in the future,” Huntley said. “We’ve always tried to make our schedule as challenging as we can. Our players expect that. They enjoy those games where the level of competition requires they be at their best.”
With nearly a month of practice already in the books, they started Aug. 29, they’re itching for a game.
“Very eager,” Huntley said of the countdown to Game 1. “They’re tired of each other. They’re anxious to get after it and excited to represent our school.”
(Originally published at https://www.kilgorenewsherald.com/marauders-look-for-title-hat-trick-in-final-acha-d2-season/article_731ffb77-0749-5603-b243-29e33dbb480f.html)