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Young Huskies hockey team optimistic

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VAIL – Welcome to “Battle Mountain Hockey: The Next Generation.”Gone are the founding sophomores of 2001-02 season. Gone are the likes of Austin Chow, Brad Myers, Alex Biegler and Evan Sherer. Gone is the old coach – Andy Hire.OK, we still have a Chase (Chris) and a Chow (Barrett), but you get the picture.It’s a whole new ball game for first-year coach Gary Defina and the young Huskies in 2005-06.”It’s obviously hard to lose your friends, but they’re also really great players, so that’s huge,” said Casey Kleisinger, who was third in the state in scoring last year. “It’s really going to be the whole team this year. We’re going to have to have depth and really work hard. We’re going to make the state (title) game with toughness and hard work rather than talent this year.””Past years, these teams have had tons of firepower up front,” Defina said. “They just got on other teams from start to finish and that’s how they’ve had success. This team is very young. We only have two seniors. We’re going to experience some growing pains in the beginning. But I like what I see. This team is going to progress as the season goes on.”The expectations gameThe Huskies experienced some of those growing pains last weekend. Battle Mountain lost to Aspen, 8-4, and squeaked by Summit, 5-4, in overtime. Those results in past years would have been greeted with gasps of horror.The reality is that no program can lose the amount of talent that has departed the last two springs without skipping a beat. Nevertheless, this new crew of Huskies will face the high expectations of a program that has gone 75-7-2 in its first four years, making the state seminfinals every year and the finals twice.Toss in the fact that Battle Mountain has never lost on home ice, something which will likely occur this season, and the Huskies are facing a high bar.”This program has come a long way in four years and the expectation is to win,” Defina said. “Obviously, we’ve never won the state title, but we’ve come so close many times. The expectation is there for this team to win. These kids all know it and it’s good. Their expectations are to win.”DefenseBattle Mountain is easily most experienced at the blueline. The Huskies have five returning defenders and Defina expects this crew to be the heart of the team.Defina will be sending out duos of Matt Heelan and Coulter Somes, Andreas Apostal and Jonny Stevens and McKenzie Stevens and Jordan Vanvoorst with John Ryan Melzer getting some playing time there as well.”I think we’ve got a good defensive team this year,” Apostal said. “I’ve been playing with Jonny ever since I’ve been playing hockey, same with McKenzie and Coulter Somes. It’s definitely easy working with all those guys you’ve grown up playing with.”The FoxGoaltending has always been a question mark when it comes to Battle Mountain hockey. Junior Foster Fox will handle the duties after backing up Karl Eklund last year.”He’s been fired up since day one. He’s been waiting for this opportunity,” Defina said. “He’s young and doesn’t have much experience. He’s going to get that experience and we’re going to work with him in practice a lot.”Freshman Eric Young will be the No. 2 goalie.OffenseWhile graduation hit the forwards hard last spring, the cupboard is by no means bare. The Huskies have an explosive first line in Derek Byron, Kleisinger and Kodi Wyatt. Byron and Kleisinger played on the second line last year and Wyatt is an excellent addition after missing 2004-05 with an injury.”It’s great for us because we’ve got another guy in the corners which allows me to feed the puck to Derek,” Kleisinger said of Wyatt’s return.The line combined for 11 points in two games against Aspen and Summit last weekend. Kleisinger had two goals and six helpers last weekend, so opposing teams will be looking for him all season.”There’s no way to replace those guys we lost last year,” Defina said. “Austin’s a one-in-a-lifetime player and Brad and Biegs (Biegler) and Evan. You can’t replace those guys. We know we’re not going to have that firepower. We do have one line. Our challenge is going to be to get that second line on the scoresheet, too.”That would be a call for Barrett Chow, Taylor Beairsto and Kyle Woods to step up. While Battle Mountain essentially operated with two lines last year, Defina wants more depth when it comes to changing them up, especially given the fact that the Huskies’ schedule has lots of games in short periods of time.The third line is Jason Funk, Chase and Sam Sterling. Ben Godec, Jacob Lammert, Ryan Maddux and Todd Walker will also see time at forward.Team goalsThe Huskies play in the weakest of the three conferences in CHSAA hockey, the Metro, and they will benefit from playing the likes of Summit, Pueblo, Mitchell, Liberty and Palmer. Bishop Machebeuf is ranked No. 2 in the state, and the Huskies and the Buffaloes should battle it out for the Metro title.To their credit, the Huskies have not shied away from their stiff nonconference schedule. The Huskies have Peak to Peak Saturday at Superior at 7:15 p.m. They’re also taking on defending state champion, Air Academy, (Dec. 17), Steamboat Springs (Jan. 4 and Jan. 10), Cheyenne Mountain (Jan. 14), archrival, Kent Denver, (Jan. 27) and Aspen (Jan. 31).That tough schedule does not deter the Huskies from some lofty aspirations when it comes to this season.”We definitely hope to keep the record at home with the zero in the loss column,” Kleisinger said. “Hopefully, we can achieve that. We’ve got some tough games here, but they’re not against teams we can’t beat. On any given day, we can beat any team in this league.””I don’t think the unbeaten word is coming in anywhere,” Defina said with a laugh. “We lost our first game. It was on the road and Aspen is one of the tougher teams in the league. I think we’re going to experience some growing pains. I expect us to be a winning team and in the playoffs. I expect us to be a force in the playoffs.”Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14630 or cfreud@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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