The Serra Catholic hockey team got off to a great start under first-year coach Dennis Tokarski this fall, notching three wins and a tie in its first four games.
But then Tokarski missed some time after having back surgery, and the Eagles took a nosedive.
Serra Catholic lost four in a row and six of seven games after its hot start and goes into the holiday break with an uncharacteristic 4-6-1 record.
“I wasn’t around the team for a few weeks, so I can’t say for certain, but I think we forgot to do the things the right way like we were doing before,” Tokarski said.
“I came back last week and we kind of played up and down. Now we have the holiday break and we’ll put something together.”
Tokarski said the team will make some adjustments during the time off, including implementing a new system.
Senior defenseman Jake Gunn, the team’s captain, said the new system will display more trapping.
“I think it will help us a lot, because we’re a little slower so it will slow teams down in the neutral zone,” Gunn said.
The hope is that it will limit the amount of shots goaltender Ian Ritchie has to face. A junior netminder, he has faced 393 shots this season, the second-highest total in Class A. He has seen at least 40 shots in a game six times this season, including a staggering 70 in a loss to Westmont Hilltop Dec. 16.
To his credit, Ritchie has stood strong, stopping almost 90 percent of the shots, including 68 against the Hillers to keep the Eagles in the game.
“He’s doing what he has to do,” Tokarski said. “He’s not getting rattled. Sometimes, when you face that many shots, the puck is going to go in and it’s not his fault. When you turn the puck over in your zone and they have a free shot at goal, sometimes there’s nothing you can do.”
The Eagles defense, outside of Gunn, is inexperienced. The team had to move back Billy Purdue, the team’s second-leading scorer, from forward to try and help solidify the blue-liners.
Tokarski is looking for some of the younger players, such as Mike Ulishney, to step up in the second half. Gunn, as the team leader, has played an important role in the development of Ulishney and the rest of the younger players on the squad.
“It’s a very large role, because we have so many young players,” Gunn said. “I’ve tried to teach them new things and keep them motivated, which is extremely important. When you have success, then fail, it can be tough. So we have to keep pushing them.”
Tokarski is also looking for a few sophomores, such as Justin Hummert and Thomas Werner, to continue to develop to help take the pressure off Roman Kraemer and Jonathan Henschel up front.
Tokarski said he needs to get his top players some rest in the second half of the season, as he believes they have been wearing down in the third period of games due to excessive ice time.
“We need to get [the younger players] some experience to take the pressure off our big guns,” Tokarski said. “They were getting run down, especially toward the end of the games.”
Kraemer also was battling a nagging injury, Tokarski said, which limited his effectiveness.
A sophomore, Kraemer scored 49 points in his first varsity season in 2012-13 and has 12 goals, 10 assists this season. But he was shut out in the two games before the break.
The time off for the holidays should do him and the rest of the team a lot of good.
“It definitely comes at the right time,” Gunn said. “A lot of us have small bumps and bruises that we can take care of.”
Tokarski believes this team still has what it takes to make some noise come March.
“We’ll get there,” he said. “I still have faith. We have the talent, we just have to put the puzzle pieces together.”