Imagine losing 14 players from last season's record-setting team. The Winona Senior High School boys hockey team doesn't have to pretend; it's their reality.
After going 18-8-1 last year, the Winhawks graduated 14 skaters and are left with an influx of athletes who haven't skated in a junior varsity game, let alone a varsity one.
"I don't think there is a single coaching staff in the state that would love to lose 14 players off a team and start brand new, but the reality is that is the situation we are in," Winona assistant coach Rob Rousseau said.
"We don't know who the guys that when the lights get bright step up."
Two of the team's top-10 scorers return in seniors Thomas Lueck and Alex Lubahn, along with senior Frank Wychgram, a top defender and team captain.
"We have a lot of young talent," Wychgram said. "Last year we could rely on our forwards to score four or five goals a game. This year we have to rely on staying defensive."
In net the Winhawks have new faces as well in seniors Jeff Czaplewski and Evan Draves, but Rousseau believes both can do the job. The two will split time between the pipes.
"We have two guys that are capable of being the starter," Rousseau said. "We're spoiled in that respect."
Lines haven't been set for the Winhawks, who lost 6-3 to La Crescent in their season opener on Tuesday night, and the first few games will be where the team learns their roles, Wychgram said.
In a deep Big Nine Conference that includes strong teams from Albert Lea and all three Rochester schools - Century, John Marshall and Mayo - Winona has the ability to beat every team, Rousseau said, but the Winhawks will have to work hard and play solid defense to get the job done.
"We're trying to come together as one unit and see how the unit can go," Rousseau said. "Come playoff time, we should be a pretty tough team to beat."