There are just five returning players who saw extensive varsity ice time last season, meaning the Somerset boys hockey team will be learning as it goes in the 2017-18 season.
The Spartans showed that while young, they will still be a competitive team. The Spartans won their season opener against Chisago Lakes, 4-1, Tuesday, Nov. 28. The Spartans led 3-1 after two periods in their first Middle Border Conference game of the season at Eau Claire Regis, but the Ramblers took advantage of Somerset's inexperience to score four unanswered goals in the third period to win 5-3.
The main experience on the Spartan roster comes from forwards Jack Peterson, Wyatt Schmit and Eli Tuttle and defensemen Jackson Haukom and Dominic Abbott.
"We've got a lot of teaching and developing to do with the younger kids," said Somerset coach Danny Gilkerson, with the Spartans carrying 21 players on their roster.
Peterson scored 35 points last year as a sophomore and he's got loads of offensive ability. Peterson broke the game against Chisago open with two goals in the first five minutes of the second period. The first of the goals came two minutes into the period. Schmit got the puck ahead to Peterson for a breakaway. Peterson skated in, went to his backhand and flipped the puck past the Chisago Lakes goalie.
Peterson struck again with 4:56 elapsed in the period. Peterson was left alone in the left faceoff circle. He had plenty of time to wind up, ripping a missile of a shot that found the far upper corner of the net.
The lead increased to 3-0 when Haukom fired a shot from the point to increase the lead to 3-0 with 5:23 left in the period. Chisago Lakes made sure the Spartans had to skate hard in the third period by scoring with nine seconds left in the second period.
The Spartans got the only goal of the third period when Ryan Kelly scored with five minutes left in the game. Gilkerson said Kelly is one of the younger players who has taken steps to establish himself as a solid contributor.
Senior Francisco Gomez takes over in goal this season and Gilkerson said the coaches have complete confidence in his ability. Gomez was calm and fluid in his first start of the season, stopping 36 of the 37 shots he faced in the win. Gilkerson said Gomez has long had the ability to play at the varsity level, but was stuck behind Bryce Hansen and Adam Larson the past several years.
"He's our guy, Gilkerson said. "I expect him to do well."
The Spartans built a 3-0 lead against Regis but couldn't hold onto it. Haukom scored the only goal of the first period on a nice move where he circled the net. Kelly scored a power play goal off a feed from Peterson early in the second period and then Haukom netted his second goal of the game.
Regis got one goal late in the second period, then ignited for four goals in the first 5:30 of the final period.
Gilkerson said the Regis goals came on breakaways and odd-man rushes.
"We took some unnecessary chances. It's situational hockey. We've got to do a better job of recognizing what's happening," he said.
The Spartans are in the midst of a four-game stretch of home games. The Spartans host the Northwest Icemen this Thursday and the River Falls Wildcats this Saturday.
The Spartans will host New Richmond next Tuesday in an important early-season Middle Border Conference battle.