Skaters count on depth, hope to climb
Despite losses to graduation, injuries and defections, Ely’s high school boys hockey team still has plenty of skaters.With over 30 players out for the squad, the Timberwolves are fielding both varsity and B-squad teams and figure to count depth as one of their strengths during the 2004-2005 campaign.Ely is 1-2 thus far, starting with a win at Bagley but falling to Delano and Moose Lake-Willow River the weekend of Nov. 26-27.The Wolves hope to have the numbers to turn things around after a turmoil-filled 7-18 season last winter, a year that included the early-season resignations of their entire coaching staff and the subsequent transfer of three players who would have had prominent roles on the current squad.But Brian Ensign, who took over as head coach five games into the 2003-2004 campaign, said the Wolves still have enough remaining talent to field a competitive squad.“When we have all of our guys, I think we have some pretty experienced players and can put out three quality lines,” said Ensign. “Defensively, we really have two returners and we’re hoping we can develop some depth.”Between the pipes, the Wolves will be young as sophomore Warren Burger steps in as the starting goaltender.Burger had 40 stops in a 3-0, Nov. 26 loss to Delano, and was impressive in the loss. He looks to fill the void left by the departures of former Ely goalies Brennan Poderzay and Logan Hoche, who transferred to Hibbing and Virginia, respectively.Battling to be Burger’s backup are two more young netminders - freshman Evan Plath and eighth-grader Ryan Puzel.Ely should have a potent first line as junior Jordan Richards centers between senior wings Jake Curtiss and A.J. Johnson.“We expect some scoring out of that line,” said Ensign.The second line is centered by junior Rich Milovich and includes sophomore Eric Urbas and senior Mike Krunkkala.“We think they can score but we also want them to be a quality defensive line,” said Ensign.Ensign said that center Mike Pettit may be the Wolves’ most improved player, and he heads an all-senior third line with Wayne Minier and Bill Saw.Ben Jandrey, Travis Erzar and Cory Hansey are among the other forwards in the mix for playing time. On defense, the return of senior Gunnar Johnson and junior Jake Chamberlin gives the Wolves a pair of strong returning players.Junior Jay Olson is also back and senior Eric Park will also see time on defense.Ely’s ranks took a hit before the season when junior Paul Starkovich, who saw extensive time a year ago, suffered a knee injury during football season. He’s expected to miss the first half of the season.Ensign is aided by first-year assistant Bryan Hickey and veteran Jim Baxter, who coached at several Minneapolis schools over a 30-plus-year career and has volunteered in Ely for several years. The Wolves have also incorporated the bantam program into the system along with coaches Bob Karr and Andrew Woodard.“We’re trying to develop some cohesion between the bantam and high school level,” said Ensign.• The Wolves lost 7-2 at Moose Lake Nov. 27, falling behind 5-0 before gtting on the board.“We really didn’t show up for the game mentally or physically until there were about six minutes left in the second period,” said Ensign. “Once we did, we took it to them and outshot them.”Milovich had Ely’s first goal, with assists from Jandrey and Urbas.Ely picked up a power-play goal in the third as Richards scored with help from Olson and Krunkkala.• Ely met Proctor over the weekend, visits International Falls Tuesday and hosts Two Harbors Thursday.