Lofty goals have been established for the Notre Dame-Fairfield boys ice hockey team now in its second full year after legendary coach Marty Roos -- he of the 536-301-19 career record and six state championships combined at Notre Dame and Fairfield Prep -- retired from the Lancers' bench nine games into the 2011-12 season.
Coach Steve Hetherman, who succeeded Roos, would like to see his club claim another state title, but if everything doesn't quite go Notre Dame's way this winter, he'd at least like to see the Lancers back in the CIAC Division I state tournament. The Lancers lost the 2007 and 2008 Div. I finals to Fairfield Prep after claiming championships in 1989 (Div. II), 1998 (Div. 1) and 2006 (Div. I) under Roos.
Of the 23 players from last year's team -- that went 11-10-0 and lost in the first round of the state playoffs as the No. 10 seed to No. 7 Simsbury -- who earned most of the ice time, more than a dozen are back with experience. The Lancers lost a qualifying round game in the 2011-12 season, once Hetherman took over, after missing the playoffs in 2010-11, the first time they were out since records began being kept in 1997.
Victories and Notre Dame-Fairfield boys ice hockey go together. Hetherman is not expecting a departure from the norm in 2013-14.
"My philosophy has three parts," Hetherman said within 24 hours of the Lancers' first practice on Dec. 2. "That's the development of players, winning and having fun. If a program is developing its younger players, then that can help for the winning, and if you're winning, the players are having fun.
"I believe very much in developing the players. When you put five talented kids (skaters) out on the ice together, magic will happen. That probability goes way up because you have developed the players," Hetherman said.
They key for this group, which Hetherman calls close-knit, is execution. He plans to use four lines of forwards and four defense pairings. Not returning for his senior year is Stone Denbok, of Oakville, Ontario, who was a second team All-State goaltender in 2012-13 as an exchange student. He is playing junior hockey in his native Canada this season.
Players likely to make strong contributions include junior forward Jon Suporn, junior defenseman Craig Hessenius, senior forward Garrett Gintoli, senior goalies Justin Krochko and Zach Bouve, as well as Fairfield sophomore students Seamus O'Rourke, a defenseman, and Tyler Henchcliffe, a forward.
It was too early in the preseason for Hetherman to comment on the Lancers' power play, penalty killing, forechecking, backchecking, breakout passes and neutral zone play. The line combinations are far from being set, as are the defensive tandems and the skaters on the specialty teams when there's a penalty.
Notre Dame opens its season next Wednesday against Glastonbury at Trinity College in Hartford at 7:30 p.m. The Lancers play their home games at the Milford Ice Pavilion. They take on Fairfield Prep on Jan. 9 at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport at 7 p.m. and on Feb. 8 at the Wonderland of Ice in Bridgeport at 1 p.m.
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