Buffalo boys’ hockey head coach Aaron Johnson should have no problem looking down at his bench and finding the right players to throw on the ice when searching for offense.
Much like last season, Johnson will rely heavily on the players wearing the uniform numbers 3, 9 and 10. The number three belongs to Jerame Schuetzle, a big-bodied winger with a heavy shot and is not afraid to go to to the front of the net. Number nine belongs to Gunnar Goodmanson, a speedy forward with quick hands, quick feet, good shot and enjoys playing the physical game, and number 10 is Jake Ramsey, a solid playmaker with good vision and good hands.
The all senior line accounted for nearly half of the teams total offense a year ago scoring 54 of the team’s 109 goals and 128 of the team’s 280 total points.
“We’re excited about having our top line back,” Johnson said. “In high school hockey, when you have your top three scorers back and they play together on your top line, that’s a really good place to start. We think we’ll be able to match up with anybody’s top line and come out on the plus side of that every night.”
Goodmanson was responsible for a good bulk of those numbers leading the team with 26 goals and 51 points. Ramsey finished with 41 points and led the team in assists with 27. Schuetzle finished with 14 goals and 36 points.
After tripling his offensive output from his sophomore to junior year, Goodmanson said he’s looking forward to what he and his line can bring to the table this season.
“I’ve set a few personal goals, but I’m just longing for winning and I’m really excited about this year,” Goodmanson said. “I think we’re going to do a lot of good things. We have a lot of younger kids coming up that should fill a lot of roles that we lost last year.”
Even with half of the offense returning, Buffalo was hit hard by graduation losing 11 players off last year’s squad that finished second to Rogers with a 9-3-0 conference record.
Take away this year’s top line, and Buffalo only returns two players who scored goals last season, both coming from defensemen. Senior captain Reed Morehouse is the top returning scoring blue-liner with four goals and 19 points. Junior Luke Merz owns the other two goals. Merz, Morehouse, junior Mike Sawdy, senior Tim Pearson and junior Noah VanderKooi will try and fill a hole on defense that no longer includes the big bodies and big minutes filled by Justin Laven, Loren Lindvall and starting goaltender Mikey Otten.
“There definitely are a lot of question marks,” Johnson said. “I think there’s some potential from some of our young skilled players. But making the leap from either junior varsity or the bantam level to varsity is a big jump. If these young guys adjust quickly, I think we’ll be a pretty good team.”
Morehouse, Ramsey and Goodmanson are this year’s team captains. Morehouse said he’s learned a lot from his former teammates and is excited to be wearing a letter on his jersey this season.
“I started as a sophomore, so I kind of know what it’s like to look up to some of the older players,” Morehouse said. “Just like Justin Laven did for me last year, I kind of hope to do the same for guys like Merz, Pearson and VanderKooi.”
Much like some of the skilled forwards on the team, Morehouse isn’t the biggest guy on the ice, but he offers a lot of speed and great skating ability.
"We don’t have the size that we did a year ago with last year’s seniors,” Morehouse said. “I think speed is going to be our strength this year. We have three lines that have guys with speed and we definitely need to use that to our advantage.”
Junior forwards Kevin Kemp, Brady Hartman, Nick Jensen, senior James McNamara and sophomore Blake Habisch are a few of the new names that will look to replace the size and grit players like Hunter Thompson, Jake Michalko, Kody O’Neill, Casey Anderson and Dylan Kumlin provided.
“I’ve learned from the last couple years where the seniors did a good job of leading, and I’ve picked up a few things,” Goodmanson said. “Our forwards are going to be really strong again, and our defense and goaltending should be good. So far it’s looked really well.”
Habisch, who spent this fall playing in the U-16 Elite League, will make the jump from bantams to varsity and has impressed a lot of his coaches and teammates early on in practice.
“I think Blake is going to be a very good varsity player for us,” Johnson said. “He’s a skilled kid who can step in as a sophomore.”
Unlike a year ago when Johnson had the luxury of returning an experienced goalie in Otten, this year he had four goalies competing in early season tryouts, but only junior Ben Zitur has varsity experience. Zitur saw limited action a year ago playing in only 133:59 as backup to Otten.
“Goaltending is definitely an open competition,” Johnson said. “Last year we only had two goaltenders and this year we have three juniors and a sophomore out. It’s kind of nice because we have a little bit of competition with four goalies to see who steps in and takes that job.”
Buffalo’s season gets underway with a road game at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 22 at Osseo.