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Sixteen brothers: New Richmond boys hockey graduates large, close-knit group

The seniors on the 2017-18 New Richmond boys hockey team included (front, from left) Nick Johnson, Chris Lubow, Jake Erickson, Blake Kretovics and Ben Karno; (back) Cole Thomas, Dane Swanda, Mikah Kier, Noah Towberman, Kyler Bengtson, Connor Iverson, Kyle Massey, Eric Langer, Peyton Krumm, Brady Werner and Gabe Bottolfson. Photo by NP Design and Photography

They defended each other like brothers. Sometimes they even fought like brothers.

The 16 seniors on the New Richmond boys hockey team just completed their final season together. For most of them, they've been spending the winters together for the majority of their lives.

The class of 16 is the largest class of seniors in the 22 winters that Adam Swanda has been the Tiger boys varsity coach. With his son, Dane, being part of the class, it's a group Coach Swanda has been around their entire lives.

Coach Swanda showed traces of emotion as he talked about how the group had grown into such a bonded, reliable group. He said he needed to provide almost no motivation this season because the seniors were such a focused group. Because they had played so much hockey together, they'd grown into an extremely even-keeled group that rarely showed emotion.

The team developed a personality, based upon all the personalities within the team. Swanda called Nick Johnson, Chris Lubow and Jake Erickson "the alpha dogs," as players who took on the leadership roles within the team. He pointed to players like Mikah Kier, Noah Towberman and Blake Kretovics as being more quiet, but equally as fierce, competitors.

Swanda clearly relished talking about the roles each player grew into. He talked about Brady Werner being a quiet, consistent player on the ice, but the player most likely to keep things light during practices. Or Ben Karno not being the most artistic hockey player, but getting things done with an unstoppable work ethic.

The roles within the team remained fluid too, allowing players room for growth. Swanda said the team wouldn't have been nearly as successful this season without the improvement made by players like Eric Langer, Gabe Bottolfson and Cole Thomas this season.

Dane Swanda grew up in the difficult position of always being "the coach's kid." Coach Swanda said he purposely never discussed strategy privately with his son, so his teammates learned that Dane could be treated as an equal, and that he had no leverage.

With so many players, there wasn't always the ice time available that everyone might have wanted. Peyton Krumm was told at the start of the season that he likely wouldn't see the ice frequently, but was given the option of staying with the varsity. Krumm embraced the role, becoming a voice that could always been heard cheering from the bench.

Kyler Bengtson, Connor Iverson and Kyle Massey were seniors who skated with the Tiger JV team.

The one regret Coach Swanda had about the season was the non-stop string of injuries the Tigers had to battle through. He said there were only two practices all season where every player on the team was healthy. Kretovics and Swanda battled nagging injuries all season. Langer and Lubow played through hand fractures. Lubow missed the final two weeks of practices, getting cleared to play the day before the Tigers' playoff loss to Superior.

Swanda said it's typical to see 10 percent attrition each year as players go through their growth. The Tigers started out in youth hockey with 30 players, so keeping 16 through their senior year is a rarity. And even with this team, there were three players who dropped away since the end of last season, so this group could have been as large as 19.

Coach Swanda said that could have created a problem, because that's more spaces than the Tigers have in their varsity locker room.

Dave Newman

Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.

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