|By Jason Feldman
The Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
KASSON — Christian Schillo doesn't concern himself as much with his team's record as he does with its play on the ice.
That's why, despite a 3-6 start to the season for the Dodge County boys hockey team, the senior captain is having as much fun as he's had during his varsity hockey career.
Led by three second-year captains and an infusion of energy from a big sophomore class, the Wildcats are laying the groundwork for what they hope becomes a big turnaround for the program.
"It's good to know we're competing with teams every night out," said Schillo, a senior who has three goals and three assists through nine games. "Some of my favorite games I've played in high school hockey have been this year, to see us staying so close in every game."
Seniors Schillo, Thor Knutson and Bryan Knesel were captains on last season's 3-22-1 team that was outscored by more than 100 goals. Due to injuries and players leaving the team, Dodge County finished last season with three seniors and a total of 15 players on the roster.
The Wildcats' numbers have nearly doubled this season — they're able to field a junior varsity team this season — with the help of 17 sophomores coming up to the high school program from Bantams.
"That's what I really looked forward to, knowing this big sophomore class was coming in with so much talent," Knutson said.
Many of those sophomores are contributing key ice time, including goalie Mitch Sobotta, who has played every minute in goal, and leading scorer Tanner Dufault (5-9—14). They've helped the Wildcats stay competitive in every game this season. Four of their six losses have been by one goal, with another loss coming by two goals.
Knutson said as the young players gain more experience, they'll learn how to turn the close losses into victories.
"I remember having jitters as a young varsity player," he said, "so as the season goes on I can see us closing out these one-goal games because our young guys have that experience."
The Wildcats enter this week's Kiwanis/Think Mutual Bank Hockey Festival on a high note. Their lat game before the holiday break was a 7-4 victory at St. Paul Como Park, a rejuvenated team that is 6-3-0 this season.
"We're 3-6, but the difference between 3-6 and 6-3 for us is four or five goals," third-year coach Eric Hofmann said. "We're asking a lot out of young guys, but they're competing. We're close, we just have to figure out how to win."
Schillo said the seniors are enjoying this season and they recognize that the program could continue to get better over the next few years, as more talented young players come up through the youth program.
"It shows us how good the program can be, and hopefully we set the pace for future teams," Schillo said. "My brother is a freshman, so it will cool to watch him and see where the team's at in three or four years."
Dodge County opens play in the Kiwanis Festival at 11:30 a.m. Thursday against New Ulm at Graham Arena IV.
"I really think this team can play with anybody," Hofmann said. "It's up to them how far they want to go and where they want to take it."
Tag(s): Dodge County