22 in 22: Minnesota Magicians
September 2, 2015
The 22 Teams in 22 Days series features a look at all 22 teams in the NAHL for the 2015-16 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season on Friday, September 11th. 22 in 22 will go in-depth into each NAHL team and will include interviews with all 22 head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the 2015-16 season, including taking a look at their roster and their strengths as a team. It will also take a look back on last season and how each team fared and what they accomplished. Best of all, 22 in 22 is done to provide the fans of the NAHL with an inside look at their favorite team and what to expect.
Head Coach: Tom Upton (2nd year)
2014-15 record: 21-35-4, 46 pts. (4th in the Midwest Division)
2014-15 leading scorer: Sam Becker (48 points)
2015 Playoffs: Lost in the Midwest Division Semi-Finals to Fairbanks, 3 games to 0
2015-16 Division: Central
First regular season game: Wednesday, September 23rd vs. Kenai River Brown Bears
Home opener: Friday, October 2nd vs. Aberdeen Wings
Under the direction of new head coach Tom Upton, the Minnesota Magicians got off to the kind of start that every coach dreams about. The relatively young and inexperienced group was among the Midwest Division leaders thanks to 11 wins in their first 17 games, which included going 3-1 at the NAHL Showcase. However, the euphoria quickly wore off as the remainder of the season was a rollercoaster ride for the Magicians, who fell victim to injuries and inconsistency. “I think the biggest thing I learned in my first year as head coach was to stick with the game plan, especially when times got tough,” said Magicians head coach Tom Upton. “I think we were all pleasantly surprised with out start, but inevitably adversity hits and we didn’t handle it that well because we deviated from our plan. It was easy to get sucked into the adversity instead of taking a step back and getting back to basics and the way we were playing at the beginning of the year. As the head coach, I need to lead that charge,” stated Upton.
However, the Magicians did what they needed to do in the final two months of the season to get enough wins and points to make the playoffs, where they had to travel to Alaska to face the defending champion Fairbanks Ice Dogs in the opening round of the Midwest Division Semi-Finals. Despite putting up a good battle and getting very solid goaltending, the Magicians were swept from the playoffs. “I think the season met our expectations because we made the playoffs, but more importantly, we created the right kind of culture here. We wanted to make sure we brought in good character people and players that were willing to develop, so from that standpoint, we succeeded,’ said Upton.
It was a very good year for the Magicians in terms of development and advancement. Eight players made NCAA commitments, which was highlighted by defenseman and leading scorer Sam Becker’s commitment to the University of Maine. “We moved all of our older players on and there were some really notable NCAA commitments, in addition to some advancement to higher levels,” Upton said.
The Magicians will start the 2015-16 with some holes to fill, but it isn’t as drastic as some of the other teams in the league because there is a significant veteran presence to begin the season. One other change finds the Magicians now in the Central Division as opposed to the Midwest Division, where they have played the past two seasons. The move doesn’t change Upton’s goals for the team this season. “I expect us to win more games this year. We need to take another organizational step along with continuing to bring in guys with character that want to develop,” stated Upton.
The Magicians will return eight players from last year’s team along with a couple more players with NAHL experience. The returning forwards include Brady Heppner (20 points), Jack Christensen (17 points), Braxton Collins (7 points), Austin Jackson (7 points) and Austin Rueschhoff (7 points). The returning defensemen are Taylor Brierly (7 points), Travis Brown (5 points) and Spencer Kuhlman (2 points). In addition, the Magicians have added forward Tyler Funk, who posted 15 points with Coulee Region and Springfield last season, along with Johnny Panvica and Brett Gravelle, who were both standouts with the North Iowa Bulls last season in the NA3HL. “One of the major differences of this year’s team is we have 10-11 guys who have been a part of junior hockey playoffs before, so I think that is one of the major reasons behind our heightened expectations. That type of experience is something you can’t teach or duplicate,” said Upton.
Armed with the heavy line-up of returning veterans with experience, Upton said that maybe the biggest need for the Magicians was depth at the goaltending position. “I felt like we got some really good goaltending at times last year, but we also had some injuries and have to have two goalies that are both capable of starting and carrying the load at different points in the season,” said Upton. The Magicians have two goalies that Upton is excited about in Will Ulrich, who played with the Chicago Young Americans 18U team last season and Quinten Prokopetz, who was with the Honeybaked 18U team last season. “We saw both Will and Quinten throughout the season and I think they will provide the needed depth we are looking for,” said Upton.
As for some other new faces, defenseman Nick McKeeby is a 17-year-old defenseman that is a prospect who has already committed to Western Michigan. “Kevin’s ceiling is so high with his ability and the fact he comes to us committed to a great Division I school is very excited for me as a coach,” said Upton. “I am excited about a lot of the guys in our new group of players because I think they, combined with our returning players, are going to give us a foundation to take the next step and get better. We need to continue to move forward, but we have to have some heightened expectations. In the end only one team won a Championship last year and it wasn’t us, so that tells us there is still some work to be done, but we are headed in the right direction. We will continue to build our culture and emphasize the process at which we going about doing things the right way,” stated Upton.
Next up in the 22 in 22 series: Minnesota Wilderness