Top scorers return, fueling optimism for the new season
MEDFORD HOCKEY PREVIEW
Coming off a 2019-20 hockey season where they tied the school record for wins, the Medford Raiders had a lot of reasons to believe they could continue that success this winter.
Adversity hit the Raiders before the season even started with the loss of their projected starting goaltender, and there’s no guarantee of a complete season as schools navigate through the COVID- 19 pandemic.
But the team is moving forward with the same optimistic outlook that it can succeed, however this 2020-21 season unfolds.
The team completed its first week of practice Nov. 16-20 and is gearing up for game number one, which is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 1 at Great Northern Conference rival Mosinee. The Raiders will be road warriors through December as the first five games, as the schedule currently reads, will be away from the Simek Recreation Center.
“Practices have been good,” secondyear head coach Galen Searles said of the first week. “The kids are skating hard. Everybody’s upbeat so far. Number one to me (in the first week) is getting our hockey legs back. We have a number of players that played a fall sport, but they readily admit that running in football or soccer is not the same as striding in hockey. A little bit different muscle sets that you have to re-train. Their wind might be pretty good, but that can be a little different too because it’s more sprints. And then there’s the basic skills, puck touches and shooting and passing. Just trying to get back into the rhythm of that.”
Getting into an earlyseason rhythm has been made easier this year with Searles and assistant coach Jesse Kreiner entering their second year together in charge and an experienced, though still relatively young roster, that has a lot of familiarity with Searles and each other.
“Last year, being the first year, we were basically building everything from scratch,” Searles said. “It’s nice to come into this season and be able to have the players that we had last year kind of pick up where we left off and be familiar with some of the stuff we’re doing and be familiar with how I run a practice.”
The team opens the new season with 17 players on the roster, though one isn’t likely to see the ice. Senior Blaine Seidl tore an ACL during the football season, leaving a huge void between the pipes. Though he had been skating as a forward the past three years, he grew up as a goalie and with his all-around athletic ability was expected to be the perfect replacement for graduated two-year starter AJ Adleman.
Searles said it’s going to take a team effort to make up for that loss.
Fortunately, the Raiders should feature a strong offensive squad. Scoring more goals will help, but so will simply controlling the puck and keeping it in the offensive zone for longer periods of time.
Seniors Carter Pernsteiner and Colton Gowey were the team’s leading scorers from a year ago and will be expected to lead that offensive push. Pernsteiner scored 20 goals and added 14 assists during the 13-10-1 season, while Gowey had 19 goals and 14 assists. Sophomore Connor Gowey made an impact in his freshman season, adding 12 goals and eight assists.
Experienced senior defensemen Logan Searles and Warryck Leonhardt should provide stability, clearing traffi c and pucks from the front of the net. Searles is a two-time honorable mention selection in the Great Northern Conference.
Those are just some of the players who can help make life easier for junior Ben Brunner, who immediately stepped up to take on the goaltending challenge in Seidl’s absence.
“I think our team is quite strong,” Galen Searles said. “If we can support clearing that area in front of the net and keeping the puck out of our end as much as possible I think we’ll play competitively. It’s just are we going to be able to keep the goals down on our end?”
Also back from last year are juniors Brayden Machon and Colbe Bull, senior Alex Gilbertson and sophomores Miles Searles and Jacob Noland. Machon had seven goals and nine assists, Searles had three goals and eight assists and can play forward or on defense. Bull could add depth on the defensive end.
Logan Searles and Leonhardt added occasional offense from their defensive positions as Searles had three goals and eight assists and Leonhardt scored twice and had two assists.
“Offensively, I like where we are,” Galen Searles said. “We still have our two top guys in Colton and Carter. I would expect that they will have a strong season like they did last year. Miles and Connor are both real strong forwards. They’re a couple of the kids that came up as freshmen. They are strong players and I think will help the offensive output. Last year I felt stronger on the defensive end and didn’t know about offense. This year it’s the other way around. If you have a really strong offense that can pin the other team down in their end and keep the puck down there then you don’t have to worry as much about getting scored on. Hopefully that’s the case.”
The team adds five freshmen this year all of whom, coach Searles said, grew up in Medford’s youth hockey program. They include Cameron Bull, who is expected to take some important defensive shifts right away, Austin Stauffer, Noah Machon, Isaac Schaefer and Kaden Kennedy. Kennedy is a Rib Lake student. The Raiders are now officially listed as a Medford-Rib Lake co-op by the WIAA, just like the girls program.
“I’ve coached all of them a number of years in youth,” coach Searles said of the freshmen. “They’re coming in a little more comfortable because they know me real well. It’s just a different environment now. But they’ve played with the guys, all the way up to the seniors, they’ve played with them in some form. So everybody knows everybody.”
Brunner is a little newer to hockey than most on the team, but Searles said he has been an eager student of the goalie position. John Adleman, who has worked with several goalies in recent years in the hockey association, is planning to come back and spend time with Brunner throughout the season.
“He’s coordinated,” Searles said. “His glove is really good. He’s interested in improving. He’s big. He takes up a lot of area in front of the net. He’ll just be learning that position a little better, working on getting down and up. That’s difficult to do in goalie pads.”
If all goes to plan, the Raiders will again play a single round-robin through the Great Northern Conference season with results of that setting up a threeround GNC tournament at the end of January. That leaves enough time for several non-conference matchups with familiar foes like the Chequamegon Coop, the Shawano Co-op, the Northwest Icemen out of Barron, the Black River Falls Co-op and Marshfield. Baldwin-Woodville was just added as a new opponent last week. That road game will be played Dec. 4.
Northland Pines, a Division 2 state qualifier last winter, is the defending GNC champion and is the opponent for the home opener on Dec. 29.
As things stand now, the Raiders remain in the same WIAA Division 2 sectional bracket they were in last year, which is headlined by Superior, who beat Medford 8-0 in last year’s regional final, and defending sectional champion Rice Lake. Hayward, New Richmond and the Amery Co-op typically field strong teams.
“I’m not throwing in the towel on the season based on (losing Seidl),” Galen Searles said. “It isn’t all about winning. That’s just icing. I think we’ll have fun and I think we could be competitive definitely. We have a strong skating crew. We’re staying positive.”