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2013-14 Winter Preview: Goaltending key for Park boys hockey team's hopes

Park senior team captain and defenseman Alex Kielsa returns to the lineup this season. He had 11 points last season for the Wolfpack. (Bulletin file photo)

Two senior goaltenders for the Park Wolfpack could help the team build on last year’s 6-19 season.

“Our goaltenders are solid,” Wolfpack boys hockey coach Jay Moser said.

Senior goalies Matthew Palmquist and Kyle Strand, both team captains, are among nine returning players. They each had save percentages above 85 percent.

“Both goaltenders are pretty equal,” Moser said. “They know the difference in their style. Both are very, very capable.”

Both Palmquist and Strand will see regular time in net. While a rotation between the two will happen, Moser intends to also play them based on team needs and how ready the goalie is.

Their goalies provide leadership on the team and set an example of hard work in practice. Both also have good size and are consistent at what they do.

“If we can work on a few things with them as far as challenging shooters, and taking angles away, I think they could be the backbone of our team,” Moser said.

Numbers were low enough once again for Park that there were no cuts made. They also had graduated nine seniors from last year’s team.

Senior team captain and defenseman Alex Kielsa returns to the lineup this season. He had 11 points last season for the Wolfpack. The Wolfpack also return Tommy Koehnen, Eric Stoffel and Jason Miner. Stoffel had the second-most goals for the Wolfpack, 10, last season.

“A lot of our returning guys are overall pretty experienced,” Moser said.

Out of the nine Wolfpack back, seven saw regular varsity playing time. Four of those nine saw regular time on the junior varsity squad.

Games against White Bear, Roseville and Cretin-Derham Hall will be key to the team’s success in Suburban East play. Moser anticipates the SEC being just as deep and challenging as ever.

“Quite often the teams at the bottom of the conference are playing competitive hockey against the teams at the top of the conference,” Moser said.

The close games will make the difference. They lost five games by a goal and tied one last season.

“We’re going to have to start winning close games this year,” Moser said. “I figure we should be right in the mix.”

The Wolfpack play a simple game and will look to forecheck. Defense will be key for their success.

“We’re not going to be a team that tries to out-finesse the other team,” Moser said. “We’re going to be physical, and battling for the corners has to be our identity.”

The Wolfpack scrimmaged with Burnsville, Forest Lake and Lakeville North during their second full week of practice. Moser played all four lines in order to evaluate all of his players.

“I think there is the potential for success,” Moser said.

Goal scoring will be a challenge for this team as no player returns with more than 10 goals from last year. Stoffel had the most with his 10 goals.

“We’re going to have to keep teams from putting a lot of goals up,” Moser said.

Park will drop the puck later than many other teams around the state.

However, their first week competition will have a loaded slate when they play Tartan, East Ridge and Mounds View in the first week of December. Mounds View also plays their first games of the season that week too.

“The only advantage would be that we have more time to work on things and implement our systems and special teams,” Moser said.  “That just means we have more games crammed into the middle of the season.”

The Wolfpack open their season against Tartan on Tuesday, Dec. 3.  The Titans (1-0) have a young team, but they have some key senior leadership.  Brady O’Sullivan and Zach Ledman had 50 and 43 points last season respectively.  Senior goaltender Gabe Splichal a .912 save percentage and helped his team to a 20-5-1 record.

The Titans have already shown their ability to put up points with a 7-2 win over Rochester Century in their season opener on Saturday, Nov. 23.  The Wolfpack will need either Matt Palmquist or Kyle Strand to have a big night in goal.

“We need to play with energy and intensity,” Moser said.

On Thursday, Dec. 5, the Wolfpack will open Suburban East Conference play with Mounds View.  The Mustangs, 13-10-3 last season, have a solid goaltender in senior Brandon Smith with his .887 save percentage, but they do not have a 20-plus type goal scorer.  

The Wolfpack will conclude a busy first week of play with rival East Ridge on Saturday, Dec. 7.  The Raptors have some offensive firepower with sophomore forward Derek Hammer, and both goaltenders stop the puck at least 88 percent of the time.

The Raptors will meet the Wolfpack at the end of a four-game stretch of away games.  This game also has Section 3AA ramifications in addition to bragging rights and SEC standings.

“Our defensive zone play will be a key factor as well as staying out of the penalty box,” Moser said.

For now, the Wolfpack will continue practicing before the puck drops.  Moser will have them focus on what they need to do in each game throughout the season.

“I tend to focus on what we do, on the things that we can control,” Moser said.  “Other teams, especially early on are trying to find their identity.”

—Matthew Davis