The Northwest Icemen have returned a lot of firepower to the ice as the WIAA enters a new era of high school boys hockey.
The local co-op squad, which includes Barron, Chetek-Weyerhaeuser, Cumberland, Spooner and Shell Lake skaters, posted a respectable 13-10-1 record under first year head coach Curtis Cutsforth last season. It was an improvement from a 5-19 campaign the year prior.
The Icemen claimed a rare playoff victory last season, 6-5 at Menomonie, before falling to annual powerhouse Superior, 7-0. A playoff rematch against either of those teams won’t happen this season.
The team will open the season against D.C. Everest this Friday night, Nov. 22, at Barron. The Icemen will again play home games in Barron, Cumberland and Spooner.
For the first time, the WIAA has split its boys hockey tournament into two divisions. The Icemen’s total co-op enrollment pushes them into Div. 1. Menomonie and Superior join several other area teams, such as Rice Lake, Hayward, the Amery co-op and co-op based out of Siren in Div. 2.
Coach Cutsforth spent no time lamenting on his team’s Div. 1 status, and instead hopes to build a program that can compete with any team in the state. And even if the goal was to play in Div. 2, Superior is lurking there with its Wisconsin record 13 state titles.
This year’s Northwest Icemen team is equipped unlike any of its predecessors to make a playoff push. The squad has 36 players on the roster, including nine seniors and a dozen juniors.
“We have a deep bench this year, so I expect that we will be a tough team to play against,” Cutsforth said. “Our goal is to finish much higher than .500 and further into the playoffs than last year. The team knows what they are capable of and is working hard to build on last year’s success and growth.”
The large roster also allows for a JV schedule and a chance to further develop players at that level. There are 14 JV games scheduled as of now, including at 5 p.m. this Friday against D.C. Everest in Barron’s arena.
After a string of captain’s practices, the Icemen began regular practices on Nov. 11.
“The team is very competitive and the practices are reflective of that – high tempo with everyone competing for a spot on the varsity squad.
“I would like to create better scoring opportunities this year and be able to finish games ahead by several goals versus close games. Every year is different on how we operate and how we design the season. Right now, there are several tweaks that we are making from last year, but all-in-all, we are still working hard to be able to control the tempo and scoring of every contest.”
This year’s Icemen should provide plenty of offense. Out of their top 10 points leaders from last year, only two were lost to graduation.
Spooner’s Colton Avery led the club with 37 points last year and has since graduated. Next on the list was current Barron senior Wyatt Boe, who netted 15 goals and 20 assists (35 points).
Other point leaders who have returned to the ice include Shell Lake seniors Timothy Mirabal (29) and Jordan Aronson (27), Barron sophomore Gavin Gordon (17), Spooner senior Thomas Kissack (14), Barron senior Carson Kurtz (13), junior Lucas Anderson (10) and senior Tyler Bohn (9), both of Cumberland.
“We will be missing Colton Avery this year, but our offense is looking strong,” the coach said. “Connor Morrison and Mason Bohn will be in the net this year and both are looking rather good at the moment.”
The team lost Cumberland goaltender Jonah Becker to graduation. Becker posted a record of 13-9-1 and a regular season save percentage of .884. Cumberland’s Mason Bohn saw limited varsity time in net during his sophomore campaign. Morrison is a year behind Bohn at Cumberland High.
The Icemen will start the season with a bang, hosting DC Everest Friday night. D.C. Everest is in the Icemen’s postseason sectional; an early season win would go a long way when seeding meetings roll around three months from now.
The Icemen will travel to Rice Lake for a scrimmage on Tuesday, Nov. 26, and then play at Amery Nov. 29-30 in a varsity tournament.