SLUH Hockey is back on the ice in a big way. In their first three games of the season, they dealt crushing blows to Francis Howell and Marquette and just narrowly lost to perennial powerhouse CBC. With a 2-1 record and 12 goals already, this year’s team, packed with seniors, is ready to turn heads and make a deep run at state.

Although the team did not see any real action during the offseason until their first game two weeks ago, they had still been hard at work for several weeks before the season opener against Francis Howell. This year, due to Covid concerns, many of the team's pre-season games were cancelled. As a result, the hockey team spent much of October in a sea of SLUH jerseys at practice. When the time finally came to take the ice against an opponent, the team was more than ready.

“Everybody was pretty fired up (to play) after last year's loss to Marquette,” said senior Ben Winkelmann, referring to the three game series that the Jr. Bills lost in last season’s quarterfinals. 

As a result, the Jr. Bills came out swinging against Francis Howell. One minute into the game, smooth passes allowed senior captain Maxwell Sextro to find the back of the net. Sextro’s goal set the momentum early for SLUH. Two minutes later, sophomore Logan Petlansky scored on the third shift, putting the Jr. Bills up by two. 

“You could tell in the locker room that we were ready to play a game,” said head coach Steve Walters. “To come out in the first and third shifts and do everything we’ve been working on and get rewarded for it, we couldn’t ask for a better start.”

SLUH went on to win 5-1 against Frnacis Howell, thanks in a big part to Winkelmann, who had a hat trick on the night. Winkelmann’s goals came off assists from senior Ryan Spinner, junior Luke Gund, and freshman Patrick Vogl. Each goal showed the skilled passing and quick movement of SLUH’s lines. 

“It was a really good game,” agreed Sextro. “The team was playing really well and I feel like we were playing with good chemistry. We could trust anyone who we put out on the ice and it could have been much more than 5-1.”

The Francis Howell win was a strong statement for a SLUH team who was coming off an early playoff exit the past year. This year's team features a strong, skillful senior class and Walters is relying on them heavily to lead his team through the season.

“We’ve got a lot of highly skilled seniors and this team is not going to succeed without the seniors,” he said. “That’s going to come from both off-ice and on-ice roles and I feel very positive that they're ready to take on that role.”

This year’s captains are Sextro and fellow senior Mario DiMaggio. For Sextro, the role of captain will actually be an easy one.

“There’s a lot of seniors on the team and we’re really just trying to lead by example and get the guys ready to play,” he said. “We don’t have to do much because everybody’s super excited to play every game.”

The Jr. Bills were certainly excited for their next game against Marquette last Saturday, which was a chance for redemption after last year’s playoff loss. Many students showed up to support SLUH in their home opener. 

“We were missing a lot of our best players and we went in a little worried. We were all over the place but we were still confident I think,” noted senior Niko Nadreau. “After our first two goals we were really rolling and it became pretty easy to keep going after that.”

The game was a blowout from the very first period. Behind the strong play of the senior class, SLUH started strong and kept the pedal on the gas through all three periods. Avenging their playoff loss to Marquette last year, the Jr. Bills sent the Mustangs off the ice with their strong play. Will Peterson opened the scoring with a blistering shot from the blue line. From there, five other players found the back of the net, including seniors Gabe Nugent, Zach Petlansky, Sean Wiegers, and Nadreau as well as Logan Petlansky. Nadreau had two goals on the night, and he attributes his success to the game’s atmosphere.

“This was my first time playing in a game with a big crowd so scoring was obviously a really great feeling that led to my second goal,” said Nadreau. 

The Jr. Bills, led by junior Max Bely, kept their shutout and went on to win the game 7-0. The win continued SLUH’s momentum and it fueled hype about this year’s season.

“We think we’ve got a shot,” said Sextro. “We think we can take on anybody and we definitely have a chance for state. Our depth is crazy and everything’s clicking well.”

Those feelings were challenged by SLUH’s game last Saturday against CBC, though. Unlike the first two games, this game was ruled by the defense. CBC scored two minutes into the second period and that was the only goal of the night. It was a tough loss for SLUH, but the season is still early and the players are keeping their heads up. 

“(The CBC game) didn't go a hundred percent as planned but that game was amazing. It's one of the better games that I've been involved in,” said Walters. “It was very fast-paced and both teams had a very good defense. It was just a frustrating game for offensive opportunities.”

It was indeed frustrating for the Jr. Bills, who failed to capitalize on scoring chances all night. 

“We’ve got to get better offensively,” Walters said. “We had three really good scoring chances that didn’t even hit the net. That will come back to bite you. We had some scoring opportunities we could have created but we just didn’t get the puck to the net.” 

CBC looks to be one of SLUH’s biggest rivals this season. A strong team in their own right this year, the returning state champs are early favorites for this year’s title. It will be up to SLUH to change that over their next few games, which include some important matchups. After a game against Westminster this Saturday, SLUH will take on De Smet, their other rival, next Wednesday. 

“It’s going to be a huge game,” said Walters. “Kids are already pumped up for it. We’re not happy with a 1-0 loss to CBC but it has resonated with the boys. They know if we step up our play in a few areas we will be able to compete with anyone.”

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