Ice Ice Baby. This year’s hockey season is officially underway and we couldn’t be more excited. The team geared up last week, testing their fitness against each other and building an even stronger team bond. Coach Mike Szkodzinski said the “team was eager to get started officially”. The coaching staff was “real happy with the overall fitness level of the returning players and pleasantly surprised by the new faces,” especially because they “always work to be the toughest team to play against in the NCHA and being physically fit is extremely important”. They finished off their heavy conditioning week with their 7th annual triathlon, in which all players race each other in swimming, biking, and running. Assistant Coach Pat McCadden competed this year and had a record breaking performance – what a wonderful display of a bonded family through and through.
This year, senior Josh Koepplinger and junior Matt Beranek will serve as this seasons co-captains, assisted by senior Nick Felan, junior Jake Drinkard, and sophomore Matt Meininger. When asked how he’s feeling about wearing that letter this season, Koepplinger responded, “wearing that letter means more than just being a leader to the guys and leading the program. So, I take a lot of pride in the fact that the guys before me set a really good example of what a captain should be. Just because I have a letter, doesn’t mean I should change who I am. I’m going to continue being the same player that I am on and off the ice and just be that voice when we need it”.
With 22 returning players making up the strong connected core of the team and eight first years bringing in some strength and resilience, the guys are looking to have a strong season. With this combination, the team sees themselves as having a lot of maturity and experience, with a blend of youthfulness and energy that will carry them to success. Coach Szkodzinski stated that they are “proud to have been in the post-season in 11 of the past 12 years and we certainly expect to be this year. No doubt – we are looking to earn a playoff series win this year. Besides that, we need to build each and every single day in order to reach our full potential by the end of the season” and Koepplinger expects nothing less.
Going into his senior season, Koepplinger is amazed by how fast his experience has seemed. The captain his freshman year told him it was going to fly by, but he didn’t believe him at the time. “Coming in as a freshman, you don’t really know what to expect. You think you have four years to play hockey, and all of a sudden you only have 25 games left.” When asked about any personal goals for the season, he immediately redirected the question to look at the team. “We obviously want to make the playoffs, but building on that we want to contend. We want to be a factor in the playoffs. We are tired of being the first team out. The attitude on this team has changed and with it will come the expectation of being perennial in our conference.” Josh Koepplinger wants to be a good leader and sees that as being his first personal goal, and he continually stated the importance of team success and that individual success is just a part of that, not the main focus.
This team driven mindset comes from the players and is molded by the coaches. Coach Szkodzinski sees this team as unique in that although they lost their first All-American, they feel that they are poised to score more goals this year as they return 3 of their top-5 scorers from last year. “We are young on the blue line, but we also added some size and stick skill on the back end. We also return all of our goaltenders which should help us reduce our goals against again this season.”
The regular season starts on November 2 when Lawrence travels to Adrian. This is an opponent that they have lost to for 11 consecutive seasons. Koepplinger is ready to put a stop to that. “It’s out biggest game. We are excited to make that trip to Adrian. It’s their home opener, so obviously it’s going to be packed, and it’ll be fun.” The guys plan on starting their season off with a huge win over Adrian on their home territory.
This season is jam packed with a lot of competition, but this team is ready. When asked for one word to describe this group Coach Szkodzinski said “Hungry” and Koepplinger said “Resilient”. A hungry resilience is already present within this team, and it’s still early. When they do their inner-squad scrimmage, true colors will show, but these guys are “ready to go. [They] are tired of beating each other up and want to hit somebody else for once.” They plan on taking this energy into the first half of their season, packing it up and taking it with them when they go abroad in December to Finland and Sweden, and bringing it back to hit the post season hard with it.
Koepplinger finished with the following message: “Leave everything on the ice. You don’t want any regrets […] You give 100% every single shift, every single period, every single game, then the results will come from that. Make the most out of every moment.” This is the mentality that the 2018-2019 LU hockey team has and plans to hold on to until the final second of the final game.
Their home opener is November 9 at 7pm. In the words of Coach Szkodzinski, “It is really is a blast to compete in front of the students as well as community members. There is never a bad time to cheer for the Vikings! Be loud and help us continue to have one of the best atmospheres in the NCHA.”