Dean Stork sounds more like a proud father than head coach when talking about the 2019-20 University of Jamestown hockey team.
Why wouldn't he?
Stork was the man originally brought to campus to construct and coach UJ men's hockey, which first began play in 2016. Players in Stork's initial recruiting class are now seniors, and after UJ lured Stork away from Miami University (Ohio) where he spent the past two seasons serving as director of hockey operations, the Jimmie hockey family has been reunited, so to speak.
"I couldn't be more excited or happier to get involved here again with these kids I recruited three years ago," said Stork, prior to Tuesday's practice at Eagles Arena. "So, it's going to be really a pleasure for me handing them their diplomas once they're done graduating."
Stork has been tabbed to coach both UJ men's hockey teams, as the university has opted to roll with Division I and Division II American Collegiate Hockey Association programs beginning this winter. The D-I Jimmies hit the ice hosting the University of Mary at 7 p.m. this Friday at John L. Wilson Arena.
Stork led the Jimmies to 20 victories in 2016, while former UJ hockey coach Cole Bell guided the Jimmies to back-to-back ACHA Division I national tournaments in 2017 and 2018. UJ hockey has competed to a record of 64-39-5 in its three years of existence, and 17 seniors will be lacing up their skates for Stork on the D-I team.
Following 17 practices and a handful of inter-squad scrimmages, Stork said goal scoring shouldn't be an issue for the Jimmies. UJ returns nine of its 10 top scorers from last season, led by the senior Pruss twins from Red Deer, Alberta. Michael Pruss buried 12 goals and led the Jimmies with 35 points in 2018-19, while Allan Pruss lit the lamp 14 times and tallied 34 total points.
Jamestown is deep at forward. Seniors Cole McKechney (15 goals, 9 assists), Cameron Todd (10, 14) and Jason Richter (12, 10), along with juniors Dylan Haney (13, 8) and Tyler Chavez-Leech (9, 6) should all figure heavily into the offensive mix. Todd's 80 career points currently tops UJ's all-time list, while Richter has tallied a program-best 40 goals.
"We have a lot of speed," Stork said. "I think we can produce and create a lot of offense. I think our goaltending is solid, we're just gonna have to make sure that we can defend five guys on the ice at the same time as well. But I really, really like our forward group."
Senior defensemen include Trevor Okino, Kyle Baron, Garret Browning, Ned Simpson and Brandon Schaber. Okino is about as offensive-minded as blueliners come, currently staked to a program-best 63 assists to go along with 13 career goals scored. Okino was third in team scoring last winter with 26 points (7 goals), while Baron added a goal and 13 assists.
Senior goalies Tyson Brouwer and David Anderson are both back in the fray. Brouwer appeared in 27 games last winter, recording 878 saves (.925) and playing to a record of 14-11-0-2. Brouwer has denied 2,455 pucks with a save percentage of .922 during his career for the Jimmies.
UJ wrapped up last season at 21-14-0-2, falling 3-2 in overtime to Robert Morris University in the first round of the national tournament in Frisco, Texas. The Jimmies were bounced out of the first round in 2017 as well, falling 3-1 to the University of Illinois in Columbus, Ohio.
Jamestown has two wins, a loss and a shoot-out loss all-time against the University of Mary.
"I think we've been just OK (in practice). We've still got a lot to work on," Stork said. "But this is a special group."
A group handpicked by Stork himself as the first to ever hit the ice for UJ.
"These guys love each other. They'll do anything for each other," Stork said. "It really is truly special. I can speak about it, talk about it, but until you witness it and see these guys ... we're pretty fortunate to have this group here at UJ."