There are fewer games on the Jamestown High School boys hockey team's schedule this season, but that does nothing to the level of play coach Matt Stockert is expecting out of his squad.
"We just have to find the right mix of kids and get 'em put on the right line and see who blends well and gels the right way, and get ready for our first game on December 15," JHS head coach Stockert said.
The Blue Jays resumed practices Nov. 30 after quarantining for two weeks per North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who postponed the start of the winter sports season to Dec. 14. Gov. Burgum issued the mandate due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Stockert and the Blue Jays are slated to host Bismarck High on Tuesday (Dec. 15) at 7:30 p.m. Due to the pandemic, the Jays will not play any Eastern Dakota Conference (EDC) teams this season. The regular-season game count currently stands at 16.
"It's always nice to see the East Region teams, there's no question about that, but everybody's kind of in the same boat," Stockert said. "As far as this year in the West Region; Minot's going to have a pretty good team, Century is always good and when you start throwing in teams like Mandan, Dickinson and Bismarck, things could get interesting on any given night.
"You can't forget about teams like Bottineau, Williston and Hazen/Beulah, because they lace 'em up just like we do."
Last season, the Blue Jays finished fifth in the WDA ended at 16-10 overall. The Jays won two of three at the West Region Tournament to clinch a spot at state.
The Blue Jays lost 8-2 to Grand Forks Red River in the opening round of the state tourney held in Fargo, but turned around and finished out the season with a pair of 4-3 wins over Bismarck High and Minot to wrap up a consolation championship trophy.
"Any coach's wish is to be playing their best hockey the last two weekends of the year, and we did that by all accounts," Stockert said. "We're getting the opportunity to play again (this year), so we will do everything in our power to continue to play."
Stockert said the team has been following the most recent COVID-19 safety guidelines to ensure a COVID-19 free season and to avoid any shutdowns due to close contacts or illness. Stockert said the Jays will be limiting the amount of time spent in the locker rooms and will be wearing face coverings regularly. Social distancing protocols will also be followed when applicable.
We'll just take it as it is and try and go out there and get better every day at practice and win as many conference games as we possibly can," Stockert said.
Stockert has a slew of players who are used to winning on the ice.
"We only lost four players from last year's team, so we have a nice incoming class of some good quality hockey players," Stockert said. "We have quite a few returners and that's a nice problem to have."
The Blue Jays will be returning their leading scorer from last season in Nolan Nenow. The now sophomore had 28 goals and 26 assists for 54 total points and just four penalties across his 25 games played. Senior Jace Thompson will also be returning to the ice for a final season with the Jays. Thompson racked up 49 points off 16 goals and 33 assists.
The Jays will also return Hunter Nelson, Gavin Haut, Jacoby Nold, Braxton Jorissen, Joe Cummings, Alex Stockert and Cooper Allen, all of whom saw valuable varsity minutes a season ago.
The Jays lost netminder Riley Gerhardt to graduation, but Stockert said the Jays' have three goaltenders all contending for the starting spot. Brode Hillstrom, the Jays' junior varsity goalie, made 14 saves in his half-a-game appearance last season.
"Nothing is set in stone on day one," Stockert said of both his lineup and tentative, revamped schedule. "We'll just keep playing it by ear. Hopefully, nothing gets extended and we'll just continue on with our season like normal."