Blue Jays to make noise in Wild, Wild West this winter
The Jamestown High School boys hockey team began practices on Nov. 7 and will open the season on Nov. 21 with a six-point game against Hazen.
JAMESTOWN — The Jamestown High School boys hockey team's 2021-22 season is a tough act to follow
Head coach Matt Stockert guided the 2021-22 Blue Jays to a 15-2 conference and 22-5 overall record en route to the program's first West Region title in 27 years.
One week after claiming the No. 1 ranking out of the West Region, the Jays went on to place fifth at the 2022 state hockey tournament where Stockert was elected 2022 Coach of the Year.
How do you get better than that?
Easy ... start with the basics.
"I like the attitude so far and I like the way that the kids are moving around," Stockert said. "Mostly it's just getting the guys' feet under them again and working on fundamentals right now."
The Blue Jays began practicing on Nov. 7 and are scheduled to open the season with a six-point game up in Hazen on Saturday at 5:15 p.m.
The exodus of all-state netminder Brode Hillstrom has left Stockert with Andrew Walz and Carson Dewald in between the pipes.
In Walz's five games played last season, he was only scored on five times. His 94.4 save percentage ranked him third in the state.
Moving out to the blue line, Stockert said people should expect to see the likes of Jarrett Zalumskis and Reagan Sortland anchoring the Jays' defense.
"We aren't very heavy on experience on the blue line but that doesn't mean that there aren't kids ready to go based on last year's performance," Stockert said.
Offensively, the Jays will have to switch some things around as the eight seniors they lost to graduation made up a good percentage of their scoring third.
The Jays also lost Nolan Nenow and Connor McLachlan. Nenow — last year's top scorer in the state — is playing hockey for the Bismarck Bobcats while McLachlan — an 2021-22 all-state defenseman — is currently playing tier 1 hockey in Colorado.
"A good chunk of our experience and our offense from last year is gone," Stockert said. "But we still have a good, experienced group who are rearing to go It's going to be a lot of fun to see where guys start and it will be a heckuva lot of fun to see where they end at the end of the year. Now it's just a matter of stop talking and start doing."
Stockert said the Jays are in a similar situation up front and are looking to kids like Max Mehus, Gavin Gerhardt, Easton Romsdal, Jordan Johnson, Ashton Stockert and Brooks Roaldson to set the tone offensively.
"Any time you have a special season like we did, there's always going to be a bullseye in the front and back of the kids' jerseys," Stockert said. "The ones who were around last year understand how extremely fun that season was so hopefully that taste is right on the tip of the tongue and they want to get after it and go get another one.
"It's important to remember that it's a different group of kids. I think if the kids can work hard and believe in each other, I really believe that the sky is the limit for them."
The sky may be the limit but to get there, the Jays have got a lot of face-offs ahead of them and they need to be fully prepared for each one.
"I always kind of use the analogy that the West is the Wild, Wild West," Stockert said. "If you are not ready on any given night, anything can happen. We are going to worry about ourselves and we're going to focus on getting better every single day and if we can do that I think we'll be in a good position to make some noise again."
Stockert said from his early research, he is predicting Bismarck Legacy and Minot to be the most obvious threats right out of the gates. Both the Magicians and Sabers represented the WDA at the 2022 State Hockey Tournament.
Legacy fell 3-1 to fourth-seeded Mandan in the loser-out while the Jays' topped Minot 4-2 in the second loser-out.
While last year's top dogs are predicted to reload for another go-around, Stockert said teams like Century, Bismarck High, Dickinson and Bottineau are never to be counted out.
That's what makes coaching in the Wild, Wild West so fun.
"I'm looking forward to all of the games," Stockert said. "We want the kids to play. That is the most fun part about it. As coaches, it's our job to be sure that they are ready to play who is on the schedule next. If we can take it one day at a time, one game at a time, one period at a time and one shift at a time, I think things will fall in place as they should."