Returners look to lead Ice Hawks

For the Rochester Ice Hawks, not advancing to the Tier III national tournament is unacceptable.

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Ice Hawks coach Nick Fatis talks with the team during a break in practice Tuesday at the Rochester Recreation Center. The Ice Hawks' home opener is at 7:05 p.m. Saturday against the Hudson Crusaders.

For the Rochester Ice Hawks, not advancing to the Tier III national tournament is unacceptable.

That fact is not lost on Rochester Ice Hawks captain Trevor Sabo. And that's why the last two years have been so frustrating for Sabo.

That's one of the reasons Sabo returned to the Ice Hawks for the 2014-15 season.

"I want to get it back to the way it was like four years ago, where advancing to nationals was just a given for the Ice Hawks," Sabo said. "Not getting to nationals back then, it just didn't happen. They had gone for so many years in a row, it was all they knew."

Sabo is like many of his teammates. The Ice Hawks return a whopping 16 players from last year's team, which went 24-19-0-4-3 and failed to advance to the national tournament. Those 16 players are back for one reason — to get to nationals.


"That's the goal for sure," said Ice Hawks co-captain Vinnie Susi.

When pressed, Susi said there are goals beyond the national tournament. "Honestly, we'd like to be in the final two, playing in that last game. I want to keep skating as long as we can," he said.

Ice Hawks coach Nick Fatis said the national tournament is certainly the goal this year. And he likes what he's seen from his veteran team so far.

"Last year, we spent so much of the season teaching basics," Fatis said. "At the end of the year, we were still learning. Most of the kids were so new to this level of hockey or their previous teams just taught things differently. It's 100 percent different this year. There's a comfort level, a fluidity, a confidence that just wasn't there last year. It's a nice feeling. This team has the potential to be very good if it keeps working hard and plays within the system."

Scoring in droves

Up front, the team's forward lines are taking shape. The team already has played four road games, and they'll bring a 4-0 record into Saturday night's home opener at the Rochester Recreation Center against the Hudson Crusaders.

The Ice Hawks are scoring at a remarkable clip, putting up 44 goals in four games.

"We haven't played the top teams in the league yet, but you can't be anything but happy with 4-0," Sabo said.


Sabo, who is the team's top returning scorer, has been skating on the first line with Drew Cleereman and Nik Marconcini. All three are returners who spent some time skating together last season.

"Cleereman had a ton of North American Hockey League interest, but he decided to come back," Fatis said. "Sabo means a ton to this program. He's not just a leader, he's a leader in stats, too. He makes anyone he's skating with better. Marconcini is so talented, too. He's fast, he's a sniper, he's an exciting player to watch. I think that line can match up with any line we'll see this year."

The second line might be the biggest line in the Minnesota Junior Hockey League. Rochester native Nick Paulson is skating on that line along with Austin Anderson and Trey McMillen.

Paulson and Anderson both are 6-foot-3.

"Opponents are looking over their shoulder, waiting for Anderson or Paulson to light them up, and then in comes McMillen, who's like 5-foot-10 and might be one of the most physical players on the team," Fatis said. "I love that line. They're scoring a ton to start the year, too."

Paulson currently leads the MnJHL in scoring with 13 points (five goals, eight assists) through four games. Anderson has seven points and McMillen has five.

Returner Alex Martin centers the third line, with newcomer Dawson Quint on one of his wings. Logan Haskins, a Rochester Mayo High School senior, has been skating on the other wing, but returner Justin Dungey may take over that spot now that he's healthy.

"Man that line has been good so far," Fatis said. "Alec Martin just has a nose for points. He's a tough kid, a smart hockey player who has tons of heart. Haskins did a fantastic job. He's got the speed and the skill to compete, and he has a great nose for the net. I love his versatility, too. I can plug him in anywhere. It's also exciting to get Dungey back. Then there's Dawson Quint, who might quietly be one of our best all-around players."


Waiting on other lines

The other lines are being shuffled currently. Fatis expects other players to emerge as the season goes along. Other forwards in the mix include Nick Wrobel, Dan Trageser, Justyn Sweet, Griffen Buck, Jamie Blair, Jarrett Urban and Evan Sabo.

"Wrobel is young and getting better," Fatis said. "He's an exciting player to watch. He has some skills you just can't teach. Sweet and Buck are two very consistent players, who will find a way to stay in the lineup. Blair and Urban are a couple of veterans we're pumped to have back. And Evan Sabo is a bruiser with a great skill set. When he gets healthy, he's going to be fun to watch."

On the blue line, Susi is the top returner.

Newcomer Luke Meade might be the team's best prospect. Fatis gave the youngster high praise. "He might be the best defenseman this program has had in a decade. He's incredibly talented," Fatis said. "He's so calm out there and sees the game so well. It's remarkable."

Susi agreed.

"I see how Meade reacts out there in situations, and it makes me play better," Susi said. "He's a great player, a great addition."

Two other additions who will help immediately on the blue line are former Winona player Drew Gustavson and former Austin High player Marcus Stoulil.


Baseball for hockey

Stoulil spent last year playing college baseball. But he gave up baseball to give hockey one final shot.

"Gustavson is a very talented kid, a gifted offensive defenseman," Fatis said. "Marcus Stoulil is incredibly mature, a physical specimen. It's amazing how much he's grown. I remember him as a small kid in high school. He's not small any more."

Veterans Josh Gresko and Dylan Durham also will be mainstays on the blue line.

"Two experienced kids, tough kids, who will help contribute game in and game out," Fatis said of Gresko and Durham.

Other defensemen in the mix include Jake O'Lena, Cody Goliath, Domininc De La Guardia and Mayo High School senior Dylan Boysen.

"Boysen and Haskins are doing a split season with us," Fatis said. "They'll return to Mayo when the high school season starts. Both are doing great here. I've been excited to see their progress."

In goal, Brandan Alcorn is the team's lone returner. Rio Virgoe, who is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, also made the team, and the Ice Hawks recently acquired Sam Nelson in a trade with the Minnesota Owls.


Nelson was an All-Star goalie in the MnJHL last season.

"Alcorn is back and he's better than he was last year," Fatis said. "Getting a kid like Nelson was huge for us. He's looking amazing. Virgoe is our No. 3 right now, but he projects as a No. 1 goalie in the future."

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