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Paynesville Press - November 22, 2006

Better depth expected to aid Stars

By Michael Jacobson

The River Lakes Stars boys' hockey team graduated seven seniors from last year's 7-19 team, but increased roster depth this year could help the team cover those player losses.

This is probably the most experienced team he has coached in four years with the varsity, said head coach Jeff Boonstra, a teacher at NL-S.

Returning players include senior Alex Naujokas of Paynesville, who led the Stars in scoring last year with 17 goals and 36 points.

Other varsity returnees include senior forward Josh Engquist (16 points), senior forward Max Lahr (9 points), junior forward Brett Savelkoul of Paynesville (8 points), sophomore Adam Porwoll (6 points), senior defenseman Blake William-son (6 points), senior defenseman Zach Dingmann (4 points), senior forward Jesse Keehn (2 points), and sophomore defenseman Reggie Fraley. Also returning is senior Brian Skluzacek in goal.

From Day 1, said Boonstra, the talk at practice has centered around the number of possible varsity contributors this year and how little separates the third line from the fifth line. Everyone, said Boonstra, has worked very hard in practice so far this year.

The Stars did, however, lose some flash and leadership among its graduation losses, especially three-year starters James Paul of Paynesville at center (25 points) and Zach Johnson of Rocori at defense (28 points). "We lost a lot of flash and leadership with James and Zach both," said Boonstra. "We're looking for someone to step up and handle that quarterback for the team."

The Stars, said Boonstra, have good team speed and better depth this year. How this turns into victories on the ice depends on a few factors. First, this should be the first time in years that the team has been able to use three lines consistently. Not only should this provide better rest for the players, but it should make the team's line changes less predictable. When you only play two lines, it was pretty easy for opponents to match a checking line against the Stars' best scoring line.

With Skluzacek returning in goal and three starting defensemen returning, the Stars will need to play good defense. Sophomore Steve Terry of St. John's Prep has been a pleasant surprise in preseason practice and could become the fourth starting defenseman.

The team will need to find the back of the net with the puck. Boonstra expects the top line (Naujokas, Porwoll, and Savelkoul) to lead the team in scoring.

Other Paynesville players on the team this year include junior Colby Peterson (battling for a forward spot on the third line) and senior defenseman Cyril Storkamp.

Boonstra said Brainerd and St. Cloud Tech are the favorites in the Central Lakes Conference again. This year, the Stars will play a full conference schedule again, two games against all the teams in the Central Lakes.

In Section 8AA, Roseau and Moorhead return as the odds-on favorites. Roseau appears to have a number of good teams coming up, said Boonstra.

The Stars - who split their home games between the Koronis Civic Arena in Paynesville and the River Lakes Arena in Richmond - will host their first game against Sauk Centre on Tuesday, Nov. 28, at 7:30 p.m. at the Koronis Civic Arena. The junior varsity also plays that night at 5:30 p.m.

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