The 2017-18 schedule for the New Richmond boys hockey team contains five of the 10 top-ranked teams in the state.
And there are also a number of teams at the opposite end of the experience level on the Tigers' schedule. Using those games to get ready for the ranked teams is one of the main challenges for the Tigers this season.
The Tigers faced one of their less experienced opponents Tuesday, Dec. 5 when they hosted the co-op team hosted by Eau Claire Regis. The Tigers broke the game open with five goals in the second period, defeating the Ramblers 9-1.
New Richmond coach Adam Swanda has been through this scenario before in his 20-plus years with the team. He said games like last Tuesday are an opportunity to work on certain aspects of the team that need polishing. He said playing high-quality teams, like the Dec. 2 contest at Antigo, expose the weaknesses that need to be sharpened.
"The Antigo game certainly was valuable," Swanda said. "We just want to get better every day in some facet of our play."
With Regis having an entirely new coaching staff, the Tigers didn't have a scouting report on their opponent. But that may have been good for the Tigers. Instead of relying on coaches' information, they had to watch the opponent's play and decipher what the Ramblers were trying to do.
The Tigers led 2-0 after the first period on goals from Nick Johnson and Brady Werner. Swanda said the Tigers didn't play a great opening period, saying they strayed from the team ideal and were concentrating more on individual success.
The message got across clearly. The Tigers only put 12 shots on net in the second period, but they were high quality chances produced by crisp puck movement. And that's why five of the 12 shots ended up in the Regis goal.
Through the first weeks of the season, New Richmond senior Eric Langer ranks among the leading goal scorers in the state. Langer bagged two more goals against Regis, giving him seven goals in the Tigers' first three games of the season.
Johnson scored once in each of the three periods on Tuesday. As the team's top scorer last season, Johnson gets plenty of attention from opposing teams.
"Getting Nick confident is vital to our success," Swanda said.
Also scoring in the win for the Tigers were Mikah Kier, Blake Kretovics and Noah Towberman.
Jake Erickson handled the first two periods in goal, making 13 saves. Max Davis made six saves in the third period.
The Tigers now start an extended stretch of road games, with their next home game more than a month away. The Tigers will play at Somerset this Thursday and at Menomonie next Tuesday.