Rhinelander’s Layne Roeser carries the puck out of the defensive zone during a boys’ hockey scrimmage against Wausau East/Merrill at the Rhinelander Ice Arena Thursday, Nov. 21. Roeser, a freshman, is one of several underclassmen the Hodags will have to rely on for valuable shifts this season. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
RHS boys’ hockey schedule
Date Opponent Time
11/26 LAKELAND 7:30 p.m.
12/3 at Chequamegon/Phillips 7 p.m.
12/5 NORTHLAND PINES* 7 p.m.
12/8 at Ashwaubenon 8 p.m.
12/10 at Medford* 7 p.m.
12/13 AMERY 7 p.m.
12/16 at Mosinee* 7 p.m.
12/20 at Waupaca* 7 p.m.
12/27 Sheboygan (Baraboo Tourney) 5 p.m.
12/28 Baraboo Tourney 3 or 5:30 p.m.
1/2 TOMAHAWK* 7 p.m.
1/4 BROOKFIELD 4 p.m.
1/7 at Marshfield 7 p.m.
1/14 at Lakeland* 7 p.m.
1/17 Medford (Merrill Tourney) 6 p.m.
1/18 Merrill Tourney 11 a.m. or 1 p.m.
1/21 ANTIGO* 7 p.m.
1/25 JEFFERS, MICH. 4 p.m.
1/28 at Ashland 6 p.m.
2/4 GNC Quarterfinals 7 p.m.
2/6 at Kingsford, Mich. 6 p.m.
2/11 GNC Semifinals 7 p.m.
2/13 EAST/MERRILL 7 p.m.
2/15 GNC Finals at N'land Pines TBD
2/20 WIAA Regionals TBD
* Conference Games | HOME GAMES IN CAPS
11/26/2019 7:31:00 AM Team preview: Rhs boys' hockey Rhinelander looks to maintain success with young roster
The last two seasons have been the winningest in the history of the Rhinelander High School boys' hockey team. A 16-win campaign in 2017-18 was followed by a 15-win season a year ago.
In order for the Hodags to post a similarly impressive win total this season, the team is going to have to rely on a number of young players to step up in a hurry.
"We're very young in a lot of spots but we have a habit of improving big time as the year goes," coach M.J. Laggis said last Thursday after his team scrimmaged East/Merrill at the Rhinelander Ice Arena. "We have to do that now - both in our attitude and in our skill level."
Rhinelander already faced a hole entering the start of the year, graduating its entire second line of Freddy Wisner, Bridger Flory and Hunter Hicks - which combined to score 21 goals during last year's regular season. The team's offensive firepower took another hit when Abe Laggis, M.J. Laggis' son, opted to forego his senior season with the team and instead play the full year with the Helena (Mt.) Bighorns of the NA3HL junior league. Laggis started and finished his hockey season last year with the Bighorns, returning to Rhinelander in between. He scored a team-best 33-points and was a first-team All-Great Northern Conference forward.
"I never had chance to have a returning all-conference first team and that didn't happen," coach Laggis said. "Now we got to work with the guys that are here and we've got some good talent in that locker room. The problem is we don't have a ton of numbers, so we've got to make the most out of everything."
The Hodags will have to lean on the handful of returning players they have, including juniors Conor Pequet and Harlan Wojtusik, who joined Abe Laggis on the front line last year. Pequet led the team with 17 goals during the regular season, while Wojtusik was third on the team with nine goals and 14 helpers.
Those two will anchor the front line for Rhinelander this year and the question is who will skate alongside them? At least during Thursday's scrimmage, the answer was senior Harrison Shinners, who scored twice last year while playing on Rhinelander's third line.
"Harri's playing pretty darn good," M.J. Laggis said. "He can be that guy that will get down in the corner and work. He's so long-levered, can reach and I thought he did some really good things with that group tonight."
All of Rhinelander's third line from last year - Shinners, fellow senior Max Spaulding and junior Jake Losch - return. Together they scored eight times last season. However that line will likely be split up this season, as coach Laggis sees Spaulding and Losch as candidates to play center on the team's second and third lines this year.
Three players who split time between varsity and JV last year - junior Brett Benes and sophomores Cal Laggis and Joe Schneider - will be called upon to fill roles on up front, as well freshman Leo Losch.
"Everyone's got to be a contributor now," M.J. Laggis said. "We don't have where one line can just do it all and everyone watches. We've all got to be a contributor and it's going to be a work in progress, for sure."
Rhinelander took a hit defensively as well as blue liners Sam Tjugum, Brandon Kolasa and Alex Hedberg all graduated. That leaves senior Danny Zuiker (3 goals, 8 assists) and junior JC Adams as the team's most experienced defensemen.
"Those are the guys that, No. 1 we've got to keep them healthy and No. 2 they got to help keep us out of the back of the net and they've got to generate offense on the other end," Laggis said.
Two players who split time between varsity and JV last year - senior Konnor Kennedy and junior Jared Arno - will be expected to contribute defensively, as will freshmen Layne Roeser and Ben Brooks.
Rhinelander will have an experienced goaltender in senior Seth Stafford, who's back for his fourth season between the pipes for the Hodags. He's 35-31-0 lifetime with a 3.31 goals against average and .861 save percentage.
"You've got a senior, a fourth-year guy, a guy that's kept us afloat for three years here. Obviously he's your go-to-guy, the incumbent and he's the starter until (proven) otherwise. We're going to go from there," Laggis said, noting that sophomores Caleb Shefveland and Garrett Kulhanek are competing to be Stafford's backup.
The Hodags open the season tonight at home against Lakeland in a non-conference contest against one of their Great Northern Conference rivals.
"That's such a rivalry game and there's so much emotion tied into those games. We'll get thrown in the fire right away, play that game and then we'll go from there," Laggis said.
The GNC season will carry even more significance than it has in years past for Rhinelander as the WIAA begins a two-year experiment with two divisions in boys' hockey. Rhinelander is in Division 2 as one of the 32 smallest programs in the state that did not elect to move up to Division 1. The Hodags' eight-team sectional will basically be a reprise of the regular-season ending GNC tournament - with Marshfield replacing Medford in the playoff bracket.
"It's definitely a totally different look. It gives the small teams a chance and that's awesome. It's a great thing for hockey," Laggis said.
Laggis said the favorite to win the GNC, and by default the favorite to advance to state out of Rhinelander's sectional, is Northland Pines. The Eagles won 21 games last year before getting tripped up by Stevens Point in the sectional semifinals.
Behind Northland Pines, Laggis said the GNC is anybody's race.
"Waupaca should be pretty good. They've got some pretty good scoring and they'll be physical and fast like they always are. I think Waupaca will be right there," he said. "The thing about Antigo is you don't outwork them. They're just grinders ... Lakeland's got some very skilled kids and Mosinee's picked up two exchange students that are really good. We're definitely going to have our hands full with everybody."
Rhinelander will host Northland Pines to begin the GNC season Dec. 5.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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