When it comes to a new season, the Verona boys hockey team carries with it the expectation to reload, not rebuild.
Veteran coach Joel Marshall expects 2019-20 to be no different than any other. He expects his team to beat out Big Eight Conference contenders Madison West, Madison Memorial, Middleton and Sun Prairie for the league title, then try to earn a third straight trip to the state tournament.
One change this year is the move to two divisions for the boys hockey postseason. Verona will be in Division 1.
The Wildcats finished 21-6-2 (13-1 Big Eight) last season. They beat beat Eau Claire North 5-1 in the state quarterfinals last season, but lost 5-0 to eventual state champion Milwaukee University in the semifinals.
Verona will have to replace two first-team all-state players who are continuing their careers in the North American Hockey League.
Forward Mack Keryluk recorded team highs in goals (42) and assists (40) last season, but opted to pursue an opportunity with the NAHL’s Jamestown (NY) Rebels instead of playing his senior season with the Wildcats. Graduated defenseman Jake Osiecki was a finalist for the WCHA State Player of the Year award last season, and now competes for the NAHL’s Minnesota Wilderness.
Verona will also have to replace defenseman Cade Binger, who received honorable mention all-state notice last season. Marshall said he expects senior Keegan Lindell (14 assists last year) and juniors Nathan Jurrens, Cale Moioffer and Josh Osting to take on larger roles in front of junior goaltender Kaden Grant.
Grant was also an honorable mention all-state selection last season after he went 16-6-2 with 582 saves, a .912 save percentage and averaged 2.42 goals against.
“We will have a strong defensive core with one of the state’s top goaltenders in net with Kaden Grant,” Marshall said. “The offense will need to produce to give us a chance to win games.”
Senior forward Cale Rufenacht also received honorable mention all-state notice last season after recording 20 goals and 32 assists. He’ll be joined at forward by classmate Ryan Ritter (nine goals and nine assists last season), juniors Walker Haessig (20 goals and 19 assists) and Leo Renlund (nine goals and 22 assists) and talented freshmen Reece Cordray and Conrad Moline.
The Wildcats open the season Mon., Nov. 25, against perennial Badger South Conference powerhouse Edgewood. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. at LaBahn Arena in Madison.