Following a 23-2 campaign last season, Western’s hockey team hits the ice Friday against Portland State University in a match that will test both teams.
Head Coach John Dougan said 11 of the 23 players are new, which makes it tough to keep the team in sync early in the season.
“We’re going to be ragged to start,” he said. “A lot of guys are learning new stuff.”
Dougan said he is hopeful the team brings what it learned in practice to the games Friday and Saturday.
Western opens the season with two games against Portland State University.
Cam Bulger, a Western player, said Portland State is one of its biggest rivals.
“This weekend is going to be a table-setter,” he said. “It’s going to be a really fun test.”
It will be difficult to repeat the 23-2 record from last season after losing key players, Bulger said, but the team can still compete for another championship.
“We’re going to go into the conference tournament with some cockiness and some swagger,” he said.
Western was voted national champions for the 2011-12 season. This season will be the first where the champion will be crowned by way of a national tournament and not by vote.
One of those key losses is Bulger’s older brother, Jeff Bulger, who recruited him to play for Western.
“He was probably one of the best players Western’s ever seen,” Bulger said of his older brother Jeff.
Also lost is top defensemen Kellen Charpentier, who Bulger said was a rock on defense.
Even after losing Charpentier, Dougan said defense will be a strong point for Western with goalie Tyler Zetting returning. Zetting, a senior at Western, carried a .932 save percentage during the 2011-12 season.
Zetting said he’s had the privilege of playing behind some of the best defensemen he has ever seen.
“Good stats for goalies always start with really good defense,” Zetting said. “[Coach Dougan] does a really good job of putting defense first.”
Dougan said Zetting is one of the top goalies in the league and will be a key returner for the team.
This will be Bulger’s fifth and final year playing for Western. He said he hopes to take a year off and do some recruiting for the team and possibly even return as a coach.
“I’ve always been more of a coach than a player,” Bulger said. “I don’t want to think about it, but I’ll miss the game and I’ll miss the boys and I want to give her one more go here.”
Western is in its second year as a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Hockey.
Dougan said the goal is to get to the national championships regardless of the uncertainty surrounding player turnover from year to year.
Dougan is in his fifth year as head coach and said the goal for the program is continued growth. When Dougan started, the team had nine players. Now it is up to 23.
“The goal is to build a solid program where you aren’t worrying if you have enough players to play the next year,” he said.