CALUMET - The 2013-14 Calumet Copper Kings are a work in progress. With 10 newcomers on the roster, coach Jim Crawford is hoping that progress comes quickly.
"The first thing is, the speed of the game compared to what they're used to playing, and the strength of the kids. You've got to pick up on those two things or you're in trouble," he said.
The Copper Kings went 16-10 (5-1 GLHC) last season, but lost four of the top six scorers from that group, including Brendan Jacques (now with the Springfield [Ill.] Jr. Blues of the North American Hockey League) and Lucas Lahnala, who combined for 39 goals and 48 assists.
Senior Eric Mattila, who had 17 goals and 13 assists in 25 regular season games, is the leading returning scorer and the only three-year varsity player on the Calumet roster. He'll get his help up front from returning sophomore Robert Erkkila (7-12-19) and senior Braden Anderson (6-5-11).
Two others that will see greatly increased roles on the forward lines are junior Evan Billeck and senior Matthew Prouty. Both had six points last season.
Both young and experienced players on the blue line have a stat to improve from 2013-14. The Copper Kings got only three goals from defensemen all season.
Maxx Fredrickson, who scored two of the three goals in question, returns for his junior season. Also coming back are seniors Bradley Erkkila and Bradly Hodges.
"All our guys that are back, they've got to play or we're in trouble," Crawford said.
In goal, Calumet has a pair of newcomers on the roster in sophomores Ian Carroll and Tyler Hubbard.
The road for the Kings is brutally difficult from the beginning. After this weekend's Copper Island Classic series against a seasoned Hancock team, the Copper Kings host defending Division 3 state champ Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood for a pair next weekend, play at a highly-touted Houghton team (Dec. 17), then face Hancock and either Houghton or Sault at the MacInnes Holiday Classic Dec. 27-28 before facing Novi and Brighton, winners of the last three Division 1 state championships combined, on the first weekend in January, all within their first 12 games.
"We've got to get faster, no question, we've got to pick up the speed. We've got to be a little tougher, we've got to be more physical than we are right now. It's all things we can improve on, but we've certainly got a long way to go," Crawford said.