The Orono Spartans Boys Hockey team had one of the best seasons in the history of the program last year. They went 19-10-1 and faced the state powerhouse Breck Mustangs in the Section 2A Finals at Parade Arena and beat the Mustangs 2-1 becoming Section 2A Champions. Orono advanced to the State Tournament for the first time since 2007. They were dealt a tough first round opponent in East Grand Forks. Despite a rough first period, the Spartans came back strong in the second period to close the gap, but ultimately ended up falling 5-1 to the eventual Single A State Champions.
The Spartans will have their goalie and on ice general, Jonathan Flakne ‘15, starting in net. When asked how he sees his role changing from last season to this season Flakne didn’t hesitate to respond, “I’m still going to stop a puck. I don’t see my role changing at all. It’s still a little black rubber thing and it still has to stay out of the net.” The Spartans will have only one senior defenseman, Will LeNeave ‘15, returning and LeNeave has already taken on a leadership role with the young defensemen coming up. One of those defensemen is Mark Wilson ’17 who was a part of the only freshman defensive pairing at the Excel. Wilson knows he needs to work on “gap control and footwork,” but he also knows where his strengths are and that is being, “a big, physical player and taking on a leadership role that will help lead the team to victory.” Orono knows that by being better, faster and stronger than last year they will be well equipped to handle Minnesota’s elite teams.
The Spartans are definitely a senior and sophomore heavy squad, but there are some notable juniors returning. One in particular is David McCuskey ’16. McCuskey scored the game winning overtime goal against Bloomington Kennedy that would take them to the section final against Breck. McCuskey is very sure of his role within the team and that is “to continue working hard, to play as a team and work with my teammates.” With words such as “team,” “teamwork,” and “victory” you can’t help but feel the energy this team has.
Orono will debut new jerseys at the Stillwater game and the boys are particularly proud and excited to wear them. When asked what it means to wear the Orono Spartans sweater, LeNeave put it best, “It’s definitely a part of my identity and I am very confident because our team is something to be proud of, especially with what we did last year.” You can feel the excitement for the season rippling through the Orono Ice Arena. The excitement and drive will help the team make it back to the Excel, but before that happens the Spartans must make it back to the Section 2A finals. Coach Kasey Yoder, starting his sophomore season, said, “Our goal as a team this year is to get back to the section final game. We know the bar has been set high and there are high aspirations here, which is what you always want.” With ten returning seniors, a few solid juniors and strong group of sophomores that goal is well within reach.
The Spartans start off the season with tough teams such as Stillwater, Hermantown and Duluth Marshall. “I think after those games we are going to know how the younger guys coming in will be able to fill their roles in helping make it back to the State Tournament,” said Alex Sellers ’15. The Spartans open against the Stillwater Ponies in Stillwater on November 25th. The Spartans’ first home game is not until December 11th against Blake and that will be the night their Section 2A Champion banner and their State Tournament Appearance banner will be hung.
Last year, the Spartans got a taste of what the MSHL State Hockey Tournament was all about. With a large portion of returning players and a fresh young crop of defensemen, the Spartans are hungry not only for a Section 2A title, but for the title of Minnesota State Hockey Champions.
Orono Seniors Z. Robinson, W. Dittrich, J. Luedtke, J. Flakne, A. Sellers, W. LeNeave, L. Kinsel, R. Baskfield, C. Goulet and T. Renard