Buffalo head coach Aaron Johnson is heading into his second season behind the Bison bench with high expectations. Johnson is optimistic that the Bison can increase their win total, recapture the Mississippi-8 title, and make a strong run at the 8AA championship. Last season the Bison improved both offensively and defensively; scoring 42 more goals and surrendering 27 fewer goals and Buffalo looks to top that again this season.
This season, Johnson’s team has an aura of confidence that experienced teams often have and a quick glance at the roster suggests a highly potent offense. The team has markedly improved depth that should translate into a winning season.
The team’s three leading scorers return. Seniors Gunnar Goodmanson, Jake Ramsey, and Jerame Schuetzle combined for 128 points last season and provide Coach Johnson one of the most prolific lines in the Mississippi-8 and Section 8AA. “They have grown up together and have played a lot of hockey together and that shows. Those three lead the way offensively, of course, but the younger guys can also look to them for direction and the team can lean on them when needed. They are always dangerous when on the ice,” said Johnson.
Senior James McNamara will see a new role on the team this season. McNamara was asked to play more of a checking role but will now be expected to provide secondary scoring. “Mac’s puck skills and shot have improved so much that we fully expect him to make a huge jump offensively,” Coach Johnson said.
Throughout the top-9 forwards, Johnson sees improved speed, skill, and hockey IQ. Junior Kevin Kemp (0-2-2), injured most of last season but return to play a top-9 role at the end, and Brady Hartman (0-1-1) have varsity experience and will play important roles. “Our junior forwards are a solid set of players. They provide good size, skating, and some skill,” Johnson stated.
Sophomore newcomers Blake Habisch, Tom ‘Rusty’ Rooney and Cade Stensby look to infuse the line-up with scoring depth. “The young guys have a lot of skill but are relentless workers, too,” said Johnson.
On the blue-line the Bison return just two regulars from last season. Senior co-captain Reed Morehouse (4-15-19) and junior Michael Sawdey (0-5-5) played a ton of minutes last season and are projected to do the same again. “Reed and Michael are highly conditioned athletes who can play big time minutes. Reed is an elusive skater and deft passer and he will jump into the offense. Michael development over the last year has been noticeable. His puck skills, passing, and skating have improved and his offensive game has progressed as a result,” stated Johnson.
Senior Tim Pearson and junior Luke Merz have seen varsity minutes and can provide some stability for the Bison. Sophomore Nick Mueller and junior Noah Vanderkoii join the d-corps and will be looking to establish themselves as reliable varsity blue-liners.
The Bison have three junior goalies that will be competing for playing time throughout the season. Ben Zitur (2-1, .079, .935%) will start the season as the number one goalie after starting three games and posting two shutouts. Newcomers Justin Hahnfeldt (1-7, 3.35, .882% with Providence Academy) and Taylor Strenge look to battle for the crease throughout the year. “Ben starts as our number one goalie but we have confidence in all three of the goalies,” said Johnson.
But the Bison will begin the season with adversity. Injuries to key forwards Goodmanson (26-25-51) and Habisch during the pre-season scrimmage festival will stretch the Bison for the first quarter of the season. Johnson remains confident in his squad, “no team is better when you remove two top-end players. But we have the depth and talent to overcome adversity. There is an opportunity for certain players to step-up and that is exciting.”
Johnson is also eager to get the games started. “High school hockey in Minnesota is so special. It’s fun to be a part of, especially where we feel our group and program are heading. It’s an exciting time of year.”
The Bison open the season versus the Osseo Orioles on Saturday November 22nd. Game times are 1:00 and 3:00 pm at Osseo’s Dick Vraa Ice Arena.
Seniors Goodmanson, Ramsey, & Schuetzle hope to score even more this season
Sophomore Blake Habisch looks to have a breakout season when he returns from injury.
James McNamara returns with an expanded role
The Bison are striving to improve in Section 8AA play