Despite the under .500 record last season, head coach Dave Aus said last year’s team was the most fun he had coaching a group.
Entering his seventh season as the Warriors coach, Aus has many hoops to jump through in getting his team ready for the 2021 season, but still has a blast on the ice with his players.
“I think as a coaching staff we had a pretty large turnover from last year,” Aus said. “It’s a weird season because in a normal year, you’d want to be pretty good by mid-January, but we only have an 18-game schedule so it’s not like we have a lot of time to get things set and get into midseason form, but it’s the same for everyone. We’ve made the most of it and have had fun so far. We'll get better as the year goes on.”
Aus believes his players had a little bit of an advantage being able to skate on lakes during the pause period. He also hasn’t seen a big dropoff in numbers.
“COVID-19 hasn’t affected our high school numbers as much as our youth hockey,” Aus said. “At our level, what we decided to do — which we’ve never done before — is not to cut anyone. I was mostly concerned about the seniors who have gotten the raw deal. It’s never fun to cut kids to begin with and I don’t think it was fair with what they have been dealing with.”
The Warriors lose a lot of scoring from last year’s team. Mike Laber, Christian Kadolph and Haden Kruse were the leading point scorers for the Warriors in 2019-20. Aus said the biggest concern for his team coming into 2021 is who is going to step up offensively.
“That’s our huge question which is concerning,” Aus said. “I’ve always felt we have had some really dynamic scorers like you knew this guy was going to score and this guy was going to score. Last year, we knew Laber and Kruse were going to score. I would say this year to me that’s my biggest concern. We got to get scoring out of seniors Andrew Zuk and Ares Soukup.”
One of the forwards Aus is high on is sophomore Max Roby, who looks to get ice time.
“He’s got a ton of potential, but he doesn’t have a proven scorer to play with,” Aus said. “And it’s hard for sophomores when you aren’t really big.”
On the defensive end, Aus thinks he has one of the strongest groups he’s ever coached. The group is led by junior Eric Pohlkamp who is shaping up to be one of the best defensemen in the state according to Aus.
“He’s definitely one of the top five defensemen in the state,” Aus said of Pohlkamp. “He’s the real deal. Our goal is to get the most mileage out of Eric as we can. I don’t know if there is anyone who works harder, but he is a machine when it comes to training. He is as committed as any player I’ve coached. He can’t do it all for us, but that’s part of growing.”
Grant Gardiepy and Eric Stoxen are two other defensemen that will help the Warriors.
“We are kind of deep there,” Aus said. “It’s a position where we are a little deeper than upfront.”
Jed Klang will be in net for the Warriors. Last year, as a sophomore, Klang started eight games and finished 3-4-1 with an 87.8 save percentage.
“If he’s not the best goalie in our section he’s one of the top two,” Aus said. “Jed is 6-foot-2 and is very athletic. Jed has the world in front of him and it’s just consistency with him and mentally which it is for every goalie. I think Jed could play beyond high school.”
Sophomore Liam Luther and junior Carter Springer will backup Klang.
“I like our D-core and goaltending and if we figure out our scoring we will be just fine,” Aus said.
Overall, Aus knows his team might be in a little bit of a rebuild, but that doesn’t discourage him.
“I think the expectations of our program are higher and you are not going to see dips like we used to,” Aus said. “Our job is to keep the ship afloat and it’s not always about winning and losing, but we are going to be pretty good in the next few years here and we are going to try to win a section here if it’s not this year.”
Freshman: Landon Mackcow, Ashton Extrand
Sophomore: Mitchell Brau, John Finnegan, Max Roby, Kellan Cousino, Noah Miles, Hayden Ranweiler, Holden Larson, Steve Selisker, Noah Peterson, Zach Birks, Brody Lund, Chase Koop, Morgan Wasnie, Liam Luther, Keegan Davidge, Conner Erickson
Junior: Brady Toensing, Cayden Kleffman, Landon Carey, Aden Extrand, Harrison Seymour, Eric Pohlkamp, Grant Gardiepy, Alex Jones, Cole Mackcow, Carter Springer, Jed Klang
Senior: Cooper Cousino, Ares Soukup, Andrew Zuk, Erik Stoxen, Cade Villwock, Sam Madison, Hayden MacLaughlin, Jack Andres, Damian Holbrooks, Jimi Koponen, Theo Lund
Saturday, Jan. 16: hosts Sartell, 3 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 19: hosts Moorhead, 6 p.m.
Thursday, Jan. 21: at Rocori, 7:15 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 26: at Duluth East, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 4: at Sauk Rapids, 7:15 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 6: at Hermantown, 3 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 9: at Grand Rapids, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 11: hosts Alexandria, 7:15 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 16: at Sartell, 7:15 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 18: hosts Tech/Apollo, 7:15 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 23: hosts Fergus Falls, 7:15 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 25: at Tech/Apollo, 7:15 p.m.
Tuesday, March 2: at Willmar, 7:15 p.m.
Thursday, March 4: hosts Bemidji, 7:15 p.m.
Thursday, March 11: at Alexandria, 7:15 p.m.
Friday, March 12: at Roseau, 6 p.m.
2020-21 Boys hockey
Head coach: Dave Aus, 21th year (7 at Brainerd, 14 at Blaine)
Brainerd career record: 85-69-5 (.552)
2019-20 Brainerd record: 10-13-3 overall, 7-1-1 CLC
Assistant coaches: Dave Stengrim, Toby Kvalevog (goalies), Kurt King, Adam Extrand (JV coach), Andrew Murray, Chris Pohlkamp