Tigers begin title defense

Published 11:28 pm Monday, November 30, 2009

The regular season begins Tuesday for the Albert Lea boys’ hockey team in Waseca and the Tigers open the season with the ability to use the phrase “defending Big Nine champions” for just the second time in school history.

In actuality it’s co-defending Big Nine champions, Albert Lea shared the title with Rochester Century, but it remains a significant accomplishment. Defending the title this season presents an even bigger challenge with the Tigers losing another glut of scoring from a quality senior line that helped the team finish with an 18-9 record and trip to the section semifinals.

When asked about the No. 1 need for this year’s team the answer from Albert Lea senior defenseman Casey Marka came almost instantaneous: scoring.

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“We just need to score goals,” Marka said. “That’s pretty much our only problem.”

Marka is the second-leading point returner from last season. Senior Tyler Brackey is the leading point returner with 25, but losing a lot of points is nothing new with the program and the Tigers seem to find a way to score.

Normally Albert Lea could rely on a group of seniors to lead the offense, but that’s not the case this season. Brackey is one of four returning forwards with varsity experience, and just one of two senior forwards with varsity experience.

Following Brackey’s 25 points, the next highest point earners were junior Dillon Stolt and sophomore Eric Carlson, who played on the third line last season. Stolt had six goals and 12 assists last year and Carlson had nine goals and seven assists as they showed the ability find the back of the net as underclassmen.

“I expect that those guys will have more productive years than they did last year, but I don’t think either one of them is at a point where they’re going to peak,” said Tigers head coach Roy Nystrom.

The conference and the section could be wide open with many teams feeling the pinch of losing a lot of talent from last year’s team. The favorite in the conference remains Century, but Albert Lea, Faribault, Owatonna and even Winona could challenge for the title.

Lourdes is the defending section champion but was among the hardest hit by graduation, as was Red Wing, the section runner-up, but both are ranked in the preseason Let’s Play Hockey rankings. Lourdes is ranked 14th and Red Wing ninth.

The Wingers return seniors Patrick Noesen and Josh Mensing who were among the top scorers last season. Noesen had 22 goals and Mensing had 15.

Lourdes’ top returning scorer is Bradyn Chezick, who scored 12 goals last season. Following Chezick is Alex Kurth, who scored five goals.

“I think everyone in the whole doggone section lost a lot of guys,” Nystrom said. “We lost a lot of guys. We lost most of our scoring, but every year we seem to find a way to put the puck in the net, rebuild a little bit.”