Lions look to bounce back
HANCOCK — After a fast start in which they went 2-0-1, the Finlandia Lions men’s hockey team appeared to be turning a corner as a program in head coach Joe Burcar’s third full season with the group. Four games later, the Lions look more like a team with many questions rather than answers after falling two games on the road and two more at home.
With 17 freshmen and a eight sophomores, the Lions’ lineup looks more like a young program’s, and that incredible amount of youth will have its growing pains as they learn the game at the Division III level.
“I think the youth is really kicking in right now,” said Burcar. “We got away from what gave us success in the first three games. That is simply what happened.
“Part of what we recruit is character kids, and this is when you want your character kids to shine.”
The Lions faced a tough Wisconsin-River Falls team last Friday, and though the Lions beat the Falcons on the road earlier this season, the visitors played a different game Friday.
Leading scorer Eddie Matsushima, who was ejected in the season opener early in the game, remained in the game for the duration, and he scored two goals. Brandon Bissett added a pair of second-period tallies 3:11 apart.
The Lions outshot the Falcons 29-25, but that was a small victory.
Another small victory was the fact that freshman Dylan Paavola, one of a trio of first-year players that Burcar is relying on defensively, scored his first career goal in the contest. The other two, Andrew Froese and Cory Richardson, all have three points through seven games and quickly becoming the core that Burcar and his new defensive coaches, Micah Stipech and Jeff Finger, can build around.
“For freshmen, they have the poise and they understand and they see things develop,” said Burcar. “Andrew has an unbelievable shot and we try to utilize that. They both have been making great reads.”
Add to that group sophomores Adam Wammes and Phil Garcia, and the Lions have some depth developing.
In Saturday’s contest against Wisconsin-Superior, the Lions’ really struggled in several facets of their game. Playing a team in the Yellowjackets who had just one win coming into the night, the Lions struggled to get their game established and found themselves outshot 31-17 and outscored 8-1.
What became apparent to Burcar and his staff after watching game film, both from last weekend and from games earlier in the season, was that the coaches were, in some cases, perhaps putting too much pressure on the young shoulders of freshmen like Teddy Randell.
“We’ve adjusted some of the lines this week,” said Burcar. “We are going to balance out some minutes on Teddy. I think, at times, we were giving him a lot of responsibility, and a lot of minutes. We really want to balance out his minutes and keep him energized.”
Randell has skated this week on a line with sophomores Cale Markham and Hunter Kero and Burcar hopes that sparks all three to pick their collective games up. Kero, who has been hurt, is finally getting healthy, and that could make a difference.
“I think Cale has been slowly coming on,” said Burcar. “Hunter is getting healthy. He is getting stronger. He is getting in better shape.
“I think we are going to start seeing some good things out of those three guys.”
This weekend, the Lions are back in action at home as they host Wisconsin-Eau Claire. The Bluegolds come into the weekend 7-0-0, with wins over MSOE, Lake Forest, Hamline, and St. Thomas already.
Senior forward Lucas Kohls, a transfer from UMass-Lowell, and junior Jake Bresser are tied for the team lead with eight points through seven games. Kohls and junior defenseman Scott Munro are tied for the team lead in goals with four each. Bresser has seven assists.
Sophomore Zach Dyment has been a steadying influence in goal, going 7-0-0 with a 1.26 goals against average and a .931 saves percentage.
The Lions and Bluegolds square off a 7:15 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday at the Houghton County Arena.