A new season brings some changes to the Lakeshore-St. Joseph hockey team.
The Warriors will be looking to replace some goal-scoring production after graduating a majority of last season's scoring. On top of that, the Warriors also have a new face at the head coaching position.
That face, however, is a familiar one.
Lucas Cucci is taking over at the helm for the Warriors, who are off to a 2-6-4 start, including two overtime losses and two ties.
Cucci is in his fifth season with the Warriors, his first as varsity coach. Before this season, Cucci spent two years as the junior varsity coach, a gig he earned after a year as the goalie coach and another coaching the U12 team.
Prior to his time with LSJ, Cucci was an assistant at the Kalamazoo Optimist Hockey Association, where he started playing as a child. He also played a couple seasons with the Grand Rapids Griffins in their AAA program, as well as a season with the South Jersey Raptors of the International Junior Hockey League.
Cucci said the Warriors' start to the season is off on the right foot, despite the team's early record.
"The season has definitely been positive," he said. "As with any time a team has a new coach, we go through growing pains, especially with regard to implementing a new system and concepts. Luckily, coming from (coaching the JV team) means that I’ve coached most of these players in the past, some of them for three seasons."
The Warriors hold wins over South Bend St. Joseph and Zionsville, the defending state runners-up.
"We have been out-shooting and out-chancing our opponents significantly," Cucci said. "However, our goal production has not been reflective of our play. We’re relying on contributions from all of our players to replace the goal scorers who graduated."
Cucci named Dylan Modschein as a key player. Mondschein, from Berrien Springs, is the team's captain, and is just one of two players listed on the roster that does not attend either St. Joseph or Lakeshore.
The other is Ben Proctor, a goaltender from Andrews Academy. Proctor and Lakeshore's Nolan Wilford have both seen time in net this season.
"Our biggest strength this year has been the play of our goaltenders," said Cucci. "Both of them have kept us in every game we’ve played and made some huge saves. We’re really looking to Nolan as a team leader, and he has impressed with his play."
Other key returners include St. Joseph's Bryce Schiff, Zane Damaske, Hunter Kalamaros, Cole Kilboy, Briggs Mosher, Owen Weber, and Lakeshore's Matt Defay and Andrew Kolessar.
Mondschein, Schiff, Kolessar, Damaske, Mosher and Weber are all forwards, while Kalamaros, Kilboy and Defay are defensive players.
Cucci described the Warriors' roster as "senior-laden", as all of the above-mentioned players are in their final seasons. The team, however, does feature some young talent, said Cucci.
Four sophomores are on the roster, including Ryan and Luke Kolessar, Nathan Hosbein and Proctor.
Lakeshore's Wilford, Jackson Blough and Treyjen Keim, as well St. Joseph's Evan Boes, Logan Langmeyer Alex Penner and Caelan Smusz are all juniors.
The Warriors will need a strong lineup this season to compete in the Michiana High School Hockey League, a league Cucci said is off to a strong start.
"The (team's) goal is always to win our league and put forth a good showing at state," said Cucci. "The (MHSHL) is showing parity that hasn’t been there for a long time. All the teams are very strong, and nobody is head-and-shoulders above the pack. There are currently six teams ranked in the top 20 of the state of Indiana, with us sitting at (No. 16)."
Cucci said, aside from competing in the league, the team hopes to lay a foundation for future LSJ teams. He also noted the team's cohesiveness.
"I feel that the biggest difference in this team is the collectiveness of it," he said, "There really aren’t any 'star' players, just some really hard-working, good-natured and respectful kids."
Cucci believes his experiences on past LSJ teams will play a big role in establishing successful teams in the future.
"Coming from within the program, I know the importance of being seen around the rink for all age groups, coming to practices of the younger teams and helping coaches who are parents learn how to develop players effectively," he said.
LSJ's next contest is this Friday at 6:45 p.m. at the Ice Box Skating Rink in South Bend against South Bend Riley, the defending Indiana 2A state champions.