EWU Hockey returns looking for a Pac-8 championship

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By Randle Kinswa, Sports Reporter

Forechecks, backchecks, haymakers and hat-tricks are finally back. EWU hockey has returned. 

Last year, the team was 10-2 in league play before losing to the California Golden Bears in the semi-finals of the Pac-8 tournament. The EWU hockey team returns 14 players from last year.

“Our big, or long-term goal is to win a national championship.” – Mitch Hunt, sophomore forward

The Eagles started off their 2019-20 campaign against the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Sept. 27 for what was originally scheduled to be a two-game series. In the first game of the series, EWU dominated the Bulldogs in every aspect of the game, cruising to a 12-0 win. Gonzaga elected to forfeit the second game that was scheduled for Sept. 28.

The Eagles were excited to get back out on the rink. Sophomore forward Mitch Hunt was a “10/10” on the excitement level to begin the new season. When asked about the goals the team has on the upcoming season, he had two answers.

“Our short-term goals are to win the day right in front of you, and to get better every day,” Hunt said. “Our big, or long-term goal is to win a national championship.”

Hunt also said that the biggest difference between this year and last year is coaching. 

 “Last year we had a coach that had been here a long time, and everyday it just seemed like repetition, repetition,” Hunt said. “This year with (EWU head coach) Greg (Sherman) it’s a new style of play, and it’s a different thing (in practice) every day.” 

Senior captain Zac Mindermann is very optimistic about the team’s comradery and chemistry. Mindermann said he believes that the large recruiting class and the large roster could be a major strength for the team.

Randle Kinswa for The Easterner
EWU sophomore Reed Kaiser takes a shot. Kaiser had three goals in EWU’s 12-0 rout of Gonzaga on Sept. 27.

Mindermann mentioned sophomore forward Reed Kaiser. 

“One of the guys that I am having the most fun watching in practice is Reed Kaiser,” Mindermann said. “He is wearing number four this year. He can do stuff with the puck that I could only dream to do.”

Kaiser had three goals in EWU’s blowout of Gonzaga in the first game of the season.

Both Hunt and Mindermann said that the major weakness of this team would be getting through the beginning of the season, as that’s the place and time where everyone is just trying to get to know each other and get back into game shape. 

Game changers

Sherman was hired last spring. With hockey technically being a club sport, the players had a say in the hiring process. Both Mindermann and Hunt had high praise for Sherman. Hunt referenced his difference in style, and how that style could be the right change that this team needs to claim their long-term goal of winning a national championship. 

Sherman had high praise for the team. When asked to describe this team with one word, Sherman said “talent”. He shared his goals for this upcoming season.

“We need to bring the team together as a team and win the Pac-8,” Sherman said. “That is my goal, and we got the talent to do it. My goal personally is to bring the boys together and help them be as successful as they can possibly be, and represent Eastern.” 

Sherman also mentioned that he wants the team to do some more training off the rink this year, including fitness training. On the ice, Sherman would like the team to be able to implement a good forecheck system, and have a good power play and penalty kill. 

Sherman also commented on the importance of the chemistry of the players.

“Try and keep the contitunity together, so we can have build chemistry together to help us be even better,” Sherman said.

Sherman was not afraid to point out some of the team’s weaknesses. He brought up the plague that has cast its shadow over the last few years: the penalty box. 

“This team was notorious for being in the penalty box last year,” Sherman said. “We have to put a stop to that. We need to change the culture. We need to work better with referees, even if they make a bad call.”

Sherman also commented on what he believes the team’s strengths are. 

“The strength of this team is we have a good coaching staff, and as a roster we have a very high hockey IQ,” said Sherman. 

The EWU hockey team is in the Pac-8 Conference, which includes 12 teams in total. All of these schools are much bigger in size than EWU. These schools include both Washington State University and the University of Washington. The Pac-8 tournament is held in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, in the second week of February. The winner of the tournament gets a trip to regionals, then it’s just two more wins at regionals to punch a ticket to nationals.

The Eagles will play next at the Icebreaker Showcase tournament in Bismarck, North Dakota, on Oct. 4-7. EWU takes on Northern Colorado, Utah State, University of Mary and Boise State in the four-game, four-day tournament.