The Northwest Icemen began practice for a new varsity hockey season Monday, Nov. 5, at Barron. Doing so began the head varsity coaching career for Curtis Cutsforth.
However, Cutsforth is no stranger to hockey in Barron – and for many skaters on the co-op squad. Cutsforth helped lead a Bantam (ages 13-14) team comprised of skaters from Barron, Chetek, Cumberland and Spooner to a 4A state title in 2016.
“This will be my 18th year coaching hockey,” Cutsforth said. “Six of those years were with the high school team as the assistant coach to Dave Brown and Dr. Robert Smith. The other years have been spread out from the Squirt (ages 9-10) level through the Bantam level.”
Guy Evans and Jeremy Boe are serving as assistant coaches, along with a handful of volunteer coaches.
The Icemen are hoping to build on a 5-19 record from a year ago under head coach Clayton Timm. That club lost just one skater to graduation in Steven LaPort.
The team, which will play several JV games, has a big roster of more than 30 players.
According to coach Cutsforth, topping a long list of returning players are Colton Avery, Jared Burch, Wyatt Boe, Jordan Aronson, Dalton Anderson and senior goaltender Jonah Becker.
“We are anticipating on surprising a lot of teams this year, as we will have a little deeper bench and the growth of some of these athletes has been quite noticeable through the offseason,” the coach said. “We would like to finish well over .500 this year and would like to see more than one game in the postseason.
“My personal goal for this program is to become known as a tough and disciplined team to play.”
If a skate-heavy first practice is any indication, the Icemen will be ready to play a full game. A few games slipped away from the squad as games wore on a year ago.
“We are going to be in shape to play the whole game and in overtime if necessary,” Cutsforth said. “Decision making skills and proper positioning greatly diminishes when you are not in shape; we are going to overcome that. And this is something that we totally control in-house.
“The mental side of the game is also going to be a constant focal point for us. This is a fast game, so all the decision making almost has to be reactionary. Having every player being mentally engaged at game time is crucial to compete at this level.”
This year’s team includes five high schools, including Chetek-Weyerhaeuser (1 player), Barron (15), Cumberland (10), Shell Lake (2) and Spooner (8). Players come from the Barron-Chetek, Cumberland and Spooner youth hockey associations.
“We have 14 home games this year, and although the co-op has three home arenas, 10 games will be played in Barron, two in Cumberland and two in Spooner,” the coach said. “I would like to see this get a little more evened out in the future, as we want to make sure the public and all three communities know that the Icemen team belongs to all three associations and five high schools.
“I’m hoping to orchestrate all of the band directors, so that all five schools could make up one pep band that would be able to come to all home games.”
On the immediate radar for the Icemen is a Tuesday, Nov. 27, game at Amery and then the home opener Nov. 29 at Cumberland against New Richmond. Up third is a game at Barron against Rice Lake on Saturday, Dec. 1.
“As the new head coach, it will take a little while to settle in with the team, and for the team to settle in with the new coaching staff,” Cutsforth said. “I am finding that the challenge is putting together practice plans that keep the entire team moving and working all on one rink.
“As you can imagine, with the physical size and number of skaters on this team, we tear up the ice rather quickly, which effects how our practices get laid out and planned. But it is absolutely fantastic and exciting to see these numbers participate.
“Right now, there is a very optimistic attitude on the team and all of the kids are already working hard towards making this a successful season. I look forward to this new challenge, but more importantly, I am excited to be working with this great group of athletes and coaching staff.”