Wolves take to the ice

Young Ely hockey team opens at home, looks to seniors to lead

by Tom Coombe
This winter, Ely will field one of the youngest teams in the history of its high school hockey program.
Yet head coach Ben Johnson said there’s no shortage of talent or desire among the Timberwolves, who open the 2019-20 season this weekend with a two-game home set against Kittson Central of northwestern Minnesota.
Only a handful of upperclassmen are on a 23-player roster, but fifth-year head coach Ben Johnson nonetheless likes what he has seen out of his team in early-season practices.
“We’re three weeks ahead of any team we have had the last four years,” said Johnson. “Obviously we’re super super young, but they are good players who are catching on quick. By far it’s the best attitude and work ethic we’ve had going into a season.”
The Wolves went just 5-16-1 last winter, but their fifth win was historic - a 3-2 playoff victory over International Falls in what was the program’s first-ever win against the Broncos.
Senior Luke Olson, a state track champion and an all-stater in cross country, scored the game-winning goal in that contest and was Ely’s leading scorer a season ago with 35 goals and 51 total points.
He’s back and teams with senior defenseman Dalton Schreffler (15 points) to give the Wolves two experienced hands to lead an otherwise young squad.
“Luke’s in great shape and being an elite runner really transfers into hockey,” said Johnson. “He can just go forever so it’s kind of nice to have somebody like that... With us really having only two lines with any sort of varsity experience it helps to have guys like Luke and Dalton.”
Schreffler, who is bouncing back from a leg injury during the football season, will anchor the Ely defense and is certain to see time on the Wolves’ special teams.
Olson will lead Ely’s top line, joining senior Jason Skube and junior Jimmy Zupancich, two of the program’s players from neighboring Northeast Range.
The second line will feature three Wolves who got their feet wet in varsity action last season: junior Jackson Flom and freshmen Kole Macho and Logan Loe.
On defense, Schreffler and senior Seann Prigge (eight points) head a unit that will also feature junior Justin Nyman and freshman Jakson Hegman. All four saw plenty of ice time in 2018-19.
Two newcomers, eighth-grader Tommy Homer and seventh-grader Wesley Sandy are also in the mix for work on Ely’s defensive unit.
Between the pipes, sophomore Chase Sandberg already has two years of varsity experience under his belt.
He was spectacular in goal in the playoff upset over International Falls, but will be tested for playing time this winter by freshman backup Ben Cavalier.
“Just coming into the season, Chase looks like a veteran,” said Johnson. “He acts like he’s been there before. And Ben Cavalier did some great training over the summer. He got himself ready. And having two good goalies will only make both of them better.”
Several others are also looking to jump into the lineup for Ely, which remains one of the smallest high schools in the state to offer hockey.
A 20-game regular season schedule includes nine home dates and some long bus trips, as well as a Nov. 29 date with defending 7A champion Greenway.
Johnson is assisted by Jake Myers and Stan Skelton.