EVELETH — After a heartbreaking end to the 2018-2019 hockey season, the Eveleth-Gilbert/Mesabi East Golden Bears are once again ready to take to the ice, this time with an innumerable amount of experience under their belt.
Last year, the Bears finished with a record of 12-11-1 and fell to Virginia 5-4 in triple overtime of the Section 7A quarterfinals. That loss stung for a bit, but this year’s group is ready to rebound and start fresh.
On the ice, they lose senior captains Josh James and Gavin Maki, as well as goaltender Kodi Intihar. E-G/ME returns quite a but of experience, however, with 16 seniors and 16 juniors all a part of the program. The mostly older group has been responsible for a bit of an attitude shift at the early season practices, according to Bears head coach Jeff Torrel.
“We’ve had a pretty enthusiastic start,” Torrel said. “The guys are excited to get rolling here. They definitely have an attitude that says they’re ready to get things started. They know things that work, things that haven’t worked and I think that experiences helps in many ways.
“They come to practice and start right away. There’s no wasting time. They know what the expectations are on the ice and in the locker room and it’s big to not have to coach that.”
Offensively, the biggest returner for the Golden Bears is senior Elliot Van Orsdel, who finished the last season as the team leader in goals (20), assists (20) and points (40). Also returning is Nick Beaudette (11 goals last season) as well as Will Troutwine (19 assists) and Gage Everson (12 assists).
Although some leadership left the program with the graduation of James and Maki, Torrel believes the returning core of players will be able to pick up the slack.
“We had some big losses for sure on the leadership front. We lost a couple of goaltenders and defensemen too but the guys we have back have been around for a while. Offensively, I think we have some good leadership.’’
Getting that offense clicking will be key for the Bears in the beginning of the season, as well as extra effort on defense.
“For us personally, we have to get the offense clicking right away. We’ve barely been on the ice for more than a week but that has to start fast. We always have to go back on defense too. Playing tough defense in front of the net is something we have to work on.”
Other key returners for Eveleth-Gilbert/Mesabi East include Cole Meyer, Bryce Kopp, Will Troutwine, Noah Shuck and Mack Lautigar.
Shuck was the starting goalie for the Bears last postseason. He and Lautigar both return with varsity experience in the net and will be joined by third goaltender Andrew Torrel.
Captains on this year’s team are Troutwine and Beaudette. That pair, along with Meyer, Everson and Koff will be keystones in an already experience-heavy team.
“Troutwine and Beaudette are huge leaders for us back on the point and Everson and Kopp are strong, fourth-year players for us. Expect leadership all the way through with those guys. They’ve been around for so long now that they’ll know how to be leaders when they need to be.
“Out of our entire 18 player varsity roster, I think 17 of them come in with varsity experience. That’s huge for any team.”
Others to look out for on this year’s roster, according to Torrel, are Nathan Tassoni, Alex Haas, Hunter Levander, Trentin Pocrnich, Tommy Schlotec, Brandon Lind, Cooper Mattson and Nick Troutwine.
Already this season, the Bears have seen defending state runners-up Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin on the ice for a two-period Iron Range Conference Jamboree matchup. The two teams skated to a 1-1 tie with Van Orsdel lighting the lamp for the lone E-G/ME goal and Shuck stopping 19 shots in the net in total. Torrel says he expects Greenway to be one of many teams to beat in Section 7 and that the Golden Bears will have their work cut out for them.
“We know Greenway is going to be good,” Torrel said. “We know what they have so there wasn’t a ton that we didn’t already know coming out of the jamboree.”
When asked about other teams to beat in the section, Torrel mentioned perennial section favorite Hermantown, as well as Duluth Denfeld.
Torrel hopes a tough schedule will prepare his squad for the playoffs as they hope to make a deep run that could end in a state tournament berth.
“I hope by the end of the season we’ll be ready to make a playoff push after the tough schedule we have in the regular season. Hopefully we can earn one of those top three seeds and then make a trip to Amsoil (Arena in Duluth) and hopefully the state tournament.”
Ultimately, the veteran head coach wants to see his players create a season to remember.
“I just hope to see a lot of excitement and a lot of team play. I want to see guys excited for one another. Hopefully this is a memorable senior season for a lot of the guys on our team.”