When you return 15 players, a dozen of them seniors, there will be expectations.
Fans got to see what the New Richmond boys hockey team is capable of doing in the Tigers' first games of the season. On Friday, Dec. 1 the Tigers roasted the Northwest Icemen, 10-0. The score was already 9-0 by the end of the second period, when the Tigers held a 30-3 edge in shots on goal. The Tigers didn't allow a single shot on goal in the second period.
The Tigers faced a much more challenging opponent on Saturday, Dec. 2 when they made the trip to Antigo. Antigo was in the state rankings to start the season, but it was the Tigers who came away with a 4-1 victory.
The roster couldn't be set up better for the Tigers. Both goalies return, as do all of the team's defensemen. Seven forwards return. The Tigers are so deep at defense that Brady Werner and Noah Towberman have been shifted to forward. Adam Swanda, now in his 22nd season as the Tigers' head coach, said that shift gives the Tigers the ability to play a physical brand of hockey with any team in the area. With Werner and Towberman at forward, the Tigers' top six forwards are all at least 170 pounds and none of them are shy about throwing their weight around.
The Tigers' main loss to graduation was forward Stuart Pearson. With the depth within the team, the talent is there to absorb his scoring loss, and then some. That starts with Nick Johnson, who was the Tigers' leading scorer last year with 42 points.
Coach Swanda isn't looking ahead. The Tigers are looking to improve in every game, knowing the challenges that they hope to meet down the road.
"We'll really have to come together as a team to have success at the end of the year," Swanda said. The coaches have made the players keenly aware that Hudson and Superior are still in this WIAA tournament bracket and they remain two of the top programs in the state.
The coaches scheduled Friday's game with the Icemen to get the rust off the players before facing Antigo. The offense was sharp, not just because of the 10 goals, but because of the numerous quality scoring chances that were produced. Eric Langer had the hat trick in the game and Cole Thomas scored twice. Werner, Towberman, Mikah Kier, Jens Christensen and Chris Lubow each scored once.
Saturday's game at Antigo was the early-season test the Tigers needed. After a scoreless first period, Antigo scored a power play at the 12:23 mark of the second period. The lead lasted two minutes, with Lubow scoring the tying goal. Swanda said Lubow excelled during Saturday's win.
The third period saw the Tigers take charge. Langer scored 51 seconds into the period, and again at the 3:31 mark, giving him five goals in the first two games of the season.
Antigo got a power play late in the third period. Tiger defenseman Ben Karno blocked three shots in that penalty kill. Tiger goalie Jake Erickson made the save of the day, robbing an Antigo player left alone at the back door, with three minutes left in the game.
Johnson scored an empty net goal with 35 seconds left to seal the win.
The Tigers now have a week between games. Their next action arrives next Tuesday when they host Amery.