HANCOCK - Last season the Finlandia men's hockey team didn't win their first game of the season until December and didn't notch the second victory until January.
With a 4-3 win over Milwaukee School of Engineering Saturday - the No. 7 team in the country - the Lions are off to a much crisper start this season.
The difference is noticeable every day to coach John McCabe.
Finlandia goaltender Troy Chandler watches a shot go wide during Saturday’s game against Milwaukee School of Engineering. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
"It was a really upbeat week," McCabe said. "You know we are kind of getting that little swagger that you have to have, that good teams have. It is kind of a quiet confidence. The guys feel good about what we are doing, they really trust what we do."
FU will try to keep that confidence high with a road series today and Saturday at Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association opponent Marian. The Lions netted seven goals last weekend against MSOE and scored 10 goals against Marian last season, including a 4-3 OT win that helped push Finlandia into the MCHA playoffs.
Captain and forward Collin Saint-Onge impressed in particular against MSOE, netting two goals and an assist in the victory. He was awarded with the MCHA Player of the Week Award for his performance.
"It is a team-first mentality, but with the team having success then comes the individual accolades," McCabe said. "Obviously it is a team-first mentality. But it is nice to see one of our leaders and best players the last couple years get rewarded."
And while Saint-Onge has been one of the Lions' leading point getters for the last two years, it is a host of newcomers who have done much of the scoring so far for Finlandia.
Freshman forwards Shigenobu Kakudate and Colin Minardi share the team lead with four points after three games, while sophomore Justin Scott has found the back of the net twice.
The production up and down the lines has been a pleasant early development for McCabe.
"We have some contributions from some young guys right away and we were hoping the freshmen would contribute, but it has been nice to see," McCabe said. "Colin, Justin, Shiggy, are all contributing. And then obviously with Saint-Onge's line they are all playing very well.
"We still want to get a few more guys going. We have two and a half lines right now, but we think four lines can score."
Of course, the most impressive newcomer might not be a freshman at all.
Defenseman Mike Montrose, a transfer from Division I Bowling Green, led the Lions power play from the point all weekend to great success. FU went 2-for-6 in man-advantage situations - and scored a goal seconds after a power play ended - and Montrose finished the weekend with a goal and three assists.
"And he is still getting his legs under him," McCabe said. "Just a great puck mover and such a good skater. He has the ability to quarterback the power play, which I think we lacked last year. That goal Saint-Onge scored, was just a great pass backdoor. He has heck of good vision, and moves his feet so well."
Another transfer, junior netminder Troy Chandler, also earned more ice time after earning the win Saturday.
"He breeds confidence in the guys and the guys have confidence in him," McCabe said. "Just a nice quiet demeanor. He just goes about his business, works hard and is a battler in there. He kept us in that game and made some big saves when he had to."
The Finlandia women will look to recover from a pair of lopsided losses at Wisconsin-Stevens Point with a home series tonight and Saturday against Marian.