A Great Northern Conference championship is not out of the question for the Waupaca boys’ hockey team.
That’s the attitude second-year coach Dave Crisman has heading into the Comets’ upcoming season, which opens Friday and Saturday, Nov. 29-30, with a pair of games against Waukesha and Whitefish Bay in Brookfield.
“(Assistant coach) Marcus (Johnson) and I fully expect to contend for the conference title, that’s our goal,” he said. “We’re not surprised with what we have, but we know we can do that.”
Two reasons that Crisman is optimistic about the season is senior Jared Erickson and sophomore Walker Smith.
Erickson, a first-team all-conference forward as a junior, is good enough to be considered player of the year in the GNC and state, while Smith is coming off of an all-conference season as a goalie.
“You won’t find anybody more coachable than Jared Erickson,” Crisman said. “Jared’s going to be a fun player to watch. You have to come and watch him. Even if you don’t appreciate hockey, he’s a true leader in terms of how he handles himself on the ice and off the ice. You don’t have to treat Walker with kid gloves like some goalies. He knows he has to stop the puck. We just let them do their thing and lead by example. The other guys are falling right behind them.”
One big difference between this season and last season is the number of players available for the first week of practice. Crisman worked with 28 players right off the bat, compared to 10 last year because the Comets made it to the Division 3 state championship football game.
“We had everybody back for our first game, but it took a little while,” Crisman said. “A lot of players from last year bought into the offseason training program worked really hard and got stronger and faster. The kids may not see it right away, but we do as coaches.”
The Comets have plenty of holes to fill from last season’s team.
“We lost all those four-year starters that played a lot, guys like (Caleb) Kiesow, (Beau) Ash, (Sam) Menzies,” Crisman said. “We didn’t have a lot of players, so we had to play a lot of young guys. Those young guys are our depth this year, so that’s going to help us.”
Other returning players include seniors Zach Smith, Aaron Dahle and Brandon Bolen; juniors Ben Stone and Austin Erickson; and sophomore Elliot Crisman.
Just as Crisman did in his first season, he’s going to ask his younger players to contribute as well.
“Some freshmen are going to play this year,” he said. “We have some nice, talented kids that had a really good week of practice. Most of them are good, smart hockey kids and we’re looking forward to what they can bring to the table.”
Northland Pines is the defending conference champion, but Crisman believes the Comets have the talent to be in the hunt.
“It’s going to be interesting,” he said. “Pines lost 12 seniors and, like us, some really talented defensemen and some nice forwards. They’re always going to be in the mix. Antigo was young last year and they’re going to be very good and Mosinee is always good.”
The Comets should be able to answer any questions early in the season, according to Crisman.
“Five of the six teams we face before Christmas were all in the top 15 (in the state) last year,” he said. “We’re going to really see where we’re at. We’ll see what our team is made of, we’ll see how the young guys respond and we’ll see how we can adjust. We’re hoping we can be on the plus side of the win column early, but the teams that we’ll play are talented. We’ll have a good idea that first weekend after Thanksgiving with Waukesha and Whitefish Bay.”
Other key matchups in December include GNC games with Northland Pines and Antigo and nonconference contests with Wisconsin Rapids and Appleton United.
“We had the ability to play a lot of our young guys last year,” Crisman said. “This year, our focus is to prepare for that January and February stretch and get some of these young guys ready to go.
“If we do our system play right, we should get those kids a lot of ice time so they can do what we need done,” he added. “Hopefully, that’ll pay off.”
Wednesday, Nov. 20 – at Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs scrimmage, 5 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 29 – vs. Waukesha at Brookfield, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 30 – vs. Whitefish Bay at Brookfield, 11 a.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 3 – vs. Wisconsin Rapids, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 5 – at Appleton United, 8 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 7 – vs. Northland Pines, 2 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 12 – at Tomahawk, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 14 – at Rhinelander, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 17 – vs. Antigo, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 19 – vs. Neenah/Menasha/Hortonville at Neenah, 7 p.m.
Friday Jan. 3 – vs. Mosinee at Stevens Point Invitational, 5 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 4 – vs. Stevens Point or Green Bay United at Stevens Point Invitational, TBA.
Tuesday, Jan. 7 – vs. Ashwaubenon, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Jan. 9 – vs. Medford, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 11 – at Lakeland, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 14 – vs. Fox Cities Stars, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 18 – vs. Northland Pines, 3 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 21 – at Tomahawk, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Jan. 23 – vs. Oshkosh, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 28 – at Antigo, 7 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 31 – vs. Rhinelander, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 4 – at Mosinee, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 8 – vs. Lakeland, 4:45 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 11 – vs. Stevens Point Pacelli, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 13 – vs. Medford, 7 p.m.