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"Better watch out": Hockey looking to make some noise this season

The Jamestown High School boys hockey team kicked off practices on Nov. 30.

What went down in Wilson Arena on Feb. 18, 2021, hung with Jamestown High School head boys hockey coach Matt Stockert well after the 2020-21 prep hockey season came to a close.

In a must-win state-qualifying game against Dickinson, Stockert's Blue Jays were down 1-0 with 75 seconds remaining in the third period. The officials assessed a two-minute minor penalty to Cooper Allen for high-sticking, forcing the Jays to pull goalie Brode Hillstrom to go full strength on offense.

The empty goal left it wide open for Landon Aman to make it a two-goal game.

With 33 seconds left Hunter Nelson finally buried a puck behind the Midgets' backup goalie Merik Low to give the Jays a boost of momentum. The junior turned around 13 seconds later beating Low's reflexes to tie it. The Midgets scored the game-winner in overtime to win 3-2.

The Blue Jays barely outlasted Dickinson 5-4 in overtime on Jan. 19.

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"We felt that we definitely were not deserving of how the season ended but the bottom line is that you have to step out on the ice and perform and when you don't things like what happened, do end up happening to you," Stockert said. "It stuck in my stomach for a while after the season ended and it didn't sit well with them either.

"I think if there's any motivation, it's that -- to not have that same feeling in our stomachs come the third week of February."

Stockert lost eight seniors to graduation, among whom was leading scorer Jace Thompson. Thompson, a former forward for the Jays, netted 17 goals and tallied 24 assists for 41 total points. Thompson tied Bismarck Century's Colton Schulte for the state's fifth-best scoring numbers last season.

While Thompson won't be taking the ice this season, Stockert has got eight seniors and all of his all-conference selections back. Nelson is taking over Thompson's captain role this season. As a junior, Nelson recorded 13 goals and 10 assists for 23 total points.

"Hunter has a C on his jersey and it's well deserved," Stockert said. "Hunter is a leader by example and he goes out there and works as hard as anyone. He has a decent skill set to go along with it. I think when you combine those two things and the leadership qualities, you end up with a pretty good kid and that's exactly what we got.

"We're looking forward to see what Hunter can do his final year."

Nelson will be joined by fellow seniors and big-time varsity contributors Braxton Jorissen, Joe Cummings, Michael Mahoney, Thomas Pfeifer, Zach Lunde and Hillstrom. Junior all-conference selections Nolan Nenow and Connor McLachlan will also be back on the ice. Nenow led the team in goals scored with 24. His 16 assists put him at 40 points to end his sophomore season, the sixth-best number in the state.

McLachlan, a defenseman, tallied three goals and dished out 11 assists.

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"We have a good core group back from our goaltenders, to our defensemen to our forwards so we're feeling kind of confident in terms of our returners," Stockert said. "It's just a matter of them stepping out on the ice and proving how they can perform. If we can get that constant effort, night in and night out, I think it's going to bode pretty well for the 2021-22 campaign."

Since Nov. 8, when the Jays officially began practices, Stockert said the Jays' attitude has been to get after it and go type of mentality. The squad's season opener is slated for Nov. 30 against the first-year Bismarck Legacy program. Stockert said it is hard to know what to expect from a first-year program like Legacy, but added that he anticipates the Sabers to be a hardworking, physical team -- like any other team in the West Region.

Stockert said that he thinks the top seven spots in the West could really go to any of the teams competing. The preseason 2021-22 North Dakota Boys High School Hockey West Region Coaches Poll had the Blue Jays picked second while Williston was listed as the top-dog.

"It's just a matter of who is going to perform," Stockert said. "There is a ton of parody in the West Region and the days of seeing kids scoring 70, 80, 90 points a season -- are going down. Everybody is getting better. That's a good thing for our game and our sport.

"It sure makes it a heckuva lot of fun come game night. You really can't take anybody for granted."

Some members of Stockert's squad are used to the work that it takes to be successful in the athletic world. In addition to rattling off a 10-game win streak last winter, a good portion of the team was also part of the first outright state championship football team Jamestown had seen since 1937.

Jamestown defeated Bismarck St. Mary's 41-27 on Nov. 12 to take home the Dakota Bowl trophy.

"I think success in anything bodes well for anything else," Stockert said. "The athletics at Jamestown High School they are second-to-none. We've got some pretty good competitive groups.

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"If you are any other school in the state of North Dakota and you have to come to play the Blue Jays -- I don't care if you are playing a game of checkers -- you'd better watch out 'cuz the Blue Jays are going to be ready."

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