After a record turnout at tryouts for the Marquette Club Hockey team, second year head coach Will Jurgensen has begun preaching to his players.
He’s not preaching plays, lineups or even basic strategy. The very first few weeks have been about establishing a brand, and teaching his players what Marquette hockey is all about.
“We’re going to establish very quickly what our team wants, what we want to accomplish and how we play as a Marquette hockey team,” Jurgensen said.
Last year, his team finished with a record of 30-8-1, which earned them first place in the Silver Division of the Mid-American Collegiate Hockey Association conference for the first time in the team’s history.
The team earned a six-seed in the Pacific Region at the Division III American Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs. They met No. 7 Robert Morris-White in the first round, who knocked Marquette out of the tournament.
The excitement around this year’s squad revolves around the fact that every member of its first three lines except one player is returning. The one loss, however, was the team’s leading scorer, Tyler Schwichtenberg.
Still, Jurgensen remains confident in his team’s ability to thrive on offense, especially with a core of six current juniors to fill the role.
“I have a really good feeling they’re all going to step in and take that void of what Schwichtenberg did for us,” he said.
Last year, Marquette’s brand of hockey was high octane offense. The team’s goal is for the trend to continue, especially with all the returning athletes. Junior forwards Johnny Stillman and Corey Quinn in particular are players Jurgensen will be depending on to score a lot of goals.
The team will benefit from the addition of Christian Leathley, a graduate student from Hope College. He will likely be on the same line as Stillman and Quinn to start the season. If the rest of the offense can pick up where last year’s team left off, goal scoring shouldn’t be a problem.
“We’re built for speed, we’re built for scoring goals. I intend to score a lot of goals this year,” Jurgensen said.
One aspect of the team that must improve to be considered a true contender is the defense. At times last year, Marquette had to resort to competing in high scoring affairs to win games. On days when Marquette couldn’t get into a groove on offense, the team suffered as a whole. Their 7-2 loss to Robert Morris-White in the playoffs was a prime example.
This year, there are two players on Jurgensen’s radar who could be difference makers in improving the Golden Eagle defense. The team will rely on seniors Brendan Natwora and Joe Bertrane to make big defensive plays.
“We need to be able to prevent teams from scoring. That’s not only on the defense, that has a lot to with our offensive guys playing defense too,” Jurgensen said.
As is often the case in hockey, it looks as though this year’s ice-general will be in net. Though only a sophomore, goaltender Robby Arner is experienced, and after splitting time last year, he earned the full-time starting spot for this season.
“He’s the guy this year,” Jurgensen said. “I expect that he’s going to be the guy who’s going to be the difference maker a lot of time.”
One major factor for this year’s team is the scheduling. Marquette begins play against Division II DePaul (Marquette is Division III) this Friday in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. A notable tournament for the Golden Eagles falls in mid-November when the team travels to Nebraska to participate in the Clash in the Corn Tournament.
The tournament will feature games against Nebraska, Dordt College and Colorado State, which finished first in Marquette’s region last year.
“Some of the best teams in our region are at that tournament,” Jurgensen said. “There are going to be a lot of people that vote on the rankings that are going to be keeping an eye on that tournament.”
Of all the games, Jurgensen is looking forward to the team’s two game series rematch with Robert Morris-White on Sept. 25 and 26 the most.
“There’s a lot on the line, not only are we trying to avenge our loss at the end of last season, but at the same time those are our first chances to get points toward the league,” Jurgensen said.
After a successful season last year, it’s not surprising that Jurgensen has lofty goals for his team this year.
“I think getting to nationals is very realistic,” he said. “I think winning nationals is going to be very difficult. we’re going to play some very tough teams, but I am excited about this team, and I think as long as we work hard and we’re prepared, then I think we’re going to give it a run.”