Rhinelander’s Jake Losch looks to skate past a Chequamegon/Phillips defender during a boys’ hockey scrimmage at the Rhinelander Ice Arena Thursday, June 27. Aside from playing the SEaLs, Rhinelander has scrimmaged Antigo and Lakeland so far during the first week of summer ice at the Rhinelander Ice Arena and is set to face Northland Pines tonight. (Photos by Jeremy Mayo/River News)
Rhinelander’s Conor Pequet looks to pass to a teammate during a boys’ hockey scrimmage against Chequamegon/Phillips at the Rhinelander Ice Arena Thursday, June 27.
7/2/2019 7:31:00 AM Hodags get taste of GNC competition during summer ice
The Rhinelander High School boys' hockey team has not had a lot of time on ice this summer, but it is making the most of its opportunity, which has coach M.J. Laggis excited about the upcoming season.
"I think we're more of a sleeper than people think," Laggis said of a team that tied for third in the Great Northern Conference last season.
The Hodags have had a look at some of their GNC competition, and will get a look at more tonight, through a series of summer practices and scrimmages.
Tomahawk joined Rhinelander for morning practice at the Rhinelander Ice Arena three times last week. The Hodags scrimmaged Antigo last Tuesday, faced Antigo and Lakeland on Sunday and will see Northland Pines tonight.
"We've had some young guys added to the summer, morning practice that have done an excellent job," Laggis said. "We've got two goaltenders here every day and we've had good practices. Tomahawk has joined us every other day. It's just been really, really good. We had a really competitive scrimmage with Antigo and another good one with Antigo, a good one with Lakeland. It will be real competitive here down the stretch."
The arrangement with Antigo and Lakeland has afforded the Hodags two more on-ice opportunities over and above the two weeks of summer ice at the Rhinelander Ice Arena.
The three teams met for a scrimmage June 23 in Antigo. They played Sunday in Rhinelander and will meet again July 23 in Minocqua.
"It's just a fun environment and I think we're going to be doing more of that in the future," Laggis said. "When we went to Antigo, we didn't have any practices under our belt, but it's summer so whatever. It gives you extra ice time. We didn't pay a nickel to play at Antigo or Lakeland and they didn't pay a nickel to come here. It's a nice deal. Everyone gets a little extra ice time, it's competitive and the kids have gotten along great. It's been clean hockey up and down the ice."
Laggis said participation in the summer sessions has been good. While some player play most if not all year round, other players haven't played since the Hodags' season ended with a 7-1 loss at Stevens Point back in February in the WIAA regional finals. Summer ice helps serve as a refresher before the season gets underway in November.
"(We're trying to get) a good breakout, move the puck, create a lot of scoring chances and have fun - and we're doing that," Laggis said. "Our systems are a shamble of what they should be but that will change and the camaraderie has been good in the locker room and that's huge. Guys getting along and having fun is a big part of it."
The Hodags are coming off the two winningest seasons in school history, going 15-9-0 last year following a 16-10-0 the season prior. Rhinelander brings back goalie Seth Stafford - for what will be his fourth season between the pipes for the Hodags - along with its top scoring line of senior Abe Laggis and juniors Conor Pequet and Harlan Wojtusik. Danny Zuiker and JC Adams headline the list of returning defensemen. Rhinelander also brings back its third line of Max Spaulding, Jake Losch and Harrison Shinners.
The Hodags were impacted by graduation. The entire second line of Freddy Wisner, Bridger Flory and Hunter Hicks graduated, along with experienced defensemen Sam Tjugum and Alex Hedberg.
"Yes, we graduated some really good seniors, but we also bring back a lot of experience at goaltender, we get some good, young defensemen and we've got some forwards that can score. I'm really excited about where we're going," coach Laggis said.
Laggis added the summer has helped him get a look at the players who may fill some of the voids. In particular, he said he was impressed by the play of sophomore-to-be Joe Schneider and incoming freshman Layne Roeser.
Winter practice for the Hodags will begin Nov. 11.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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