Raider skaters off to good start
Nothing puts a target on a team's back more than having the label, "Defending State Champion" in front of your name.
"Absolutely," Raider boys hockey head coach Brooks Lockwood said. "Everybody wants to take a crack at us. We'll get everybody's best game."
If the first two games of the season are any indication, the Raiders are up to the challenge. Hudson went 2-0 at the Woodbury Thanksgiving Tournament at Bielenberg Ice Arena, shutting out Mankato East, 3-0, and beating Hopkins, 6-2.
With 12 players gone from last year's state championship winning team, Lockwood said the Raiders will have to rely on a blend of youth and experience to contend again this year, and both contributed in the first two games of the season.
Junior goalie Alex Cohen recorded 12 saves to earn a shutout in his varsity debut against Mankato East while junior Cole Danielson recorded two goals and an assist on the weekend.
Junior Carter Maack and sophomore Peyton Hanson added a goal each in the win over Mankato East while seniors Aaron Squires, Jordan Halverson and Ben Lundeen and newcomers Hunter Danielson and Alec Kolander all scored against Hopkins.
Cole Danielson and senior Grady Gornick both return after earning Wisconsin Hockey Coaches Association All-State honorable mention last year. Gornick will serve as one of the team's four captains along with Halverson, Lundeen and senior Jack Flattum.
Lockwood said he knows what he's getting from the returning players, but they're going to have to do even more this year.
"I think we know what we have with the experienced guys, but we have to get more than we got out of them last year and we have to get a lot out of the guys who have never done it before," he said.
He likes what he's seeing from the newcomers so far.
"A lot of them have to fill big roles; power plays, special teams, penalty kill," he said. "Some of the younger guys from that Bantam group are coming up and contributing already. We just have to make sure that they develop and learn how to play the game."
Lockwood said special teams is always a focus of the Raiders. That was evident in last year's state title game when they killed off three Wausau West power plays while scoring two power play goals themselves in a 2-1 win.
"We work on special teams a lot," Lockwood said. "It's a big part of the game now the way that it's called. We preach discipline and we work a lot on special teams because you're not always as disciplined as you want to be, and neither is the other team so we have to be good at special teams."
Lockwood said the coaching staff also preaches getting better every day.
"We can't take a day off," he said. "Every time we're on the ice we have to have a purpose. That's the way we want to play. And the way we want to play is how we practice. Superior's not taking a day off."
Lockwood said it's become an expectation at Hudson to compete for a state championship, and this year is no different.
"Each year you go in with that mindset; how are we going to get better? How are we going to become the best team at the end of the year? This year we may take some lumps along the way, but certainly this group's got a lot of good characteristics of championship teams."
Tops on that list is the team's desire to win.
"We've got a lot of really competitive kids," Lockwood said. "These younger guys really want to compete and they work really hard. That's something that we have to take advantage of."
The Raiders will open Big Rivers Conference play this Thursday, Nov. 30, on the road at River Falls. After that is a showdown with perennial sectional rival Superior on Saturday, Dec. 2, at 4 p.m. at Gornick Arena.
Lockwood knows what he'll be looking for as the season progresses.
"That they're prepared and that they're focused and ready to compete," he said. "And that we get their best effort so that we can learn how to get better. If we don't get their best effort it's tough to evaluate."