Although the prep hockey season is still in its infancy, the Sheboygan Red Raiders, a co-op of players from Sheboygan North and Sheboygan South High Schools, are already inching closer to answering some the questions they had entering the year.
The team’s identity likely lies on the defensive end. Head coach Keith Bartholomaus said the Red Raiders return a few standout players that should help stabilize a largely inexperienced team.
“We have a lot of returning players on the back end,” he said. “Our goaltender, Erik Johnson, was all-conference honorable mention last year, and he’ll get the workload this year. Jacob Welsch is a defenseman who’s a two-year letter winner for us, and he’s one of our leaders. Nick Falconer played in only a small percentage of our games last year due to injury, but he’s very good and will be a strong force for us.”
As strong as the Red Raiders hope to be on the defensive end, the offense is a different story. Bartholomaus said he’s not exactly sure where the goals are going to come from yet. In years past, they’ve been able to lean on a few prolific scorers to carry the load, but this season, that’s not the case.
“We don’t have that goal scorer, so to speak,” Bartholomaus said. “We need to play a good team game and rely on everyone to contribute throughout the season. We’re not going to have a guy that puts up 50 to 60 points like we’ve had in the past. We’re going to see a lot of guys with low numbers, but if we have enough guys with those low numbers, it’s going to translate into key victories.”
Although the team approach to offensive output sounds good on paper, it will likely translate to a work in progress on the ice. That’s why Bartholomaus is stressing steady, consistent improvement early in practice. If the Red Raiders want to get where they want to go this year, it’s going to take the emergence of several young players.
“The biggest thing is we need to see steady improvement,” he said. “We have a lot of new faces and there are guys who don’t have varsity experience. We’ll have some freshmen in the lineup. We’re going to go through some growing pains early on, but if we stay the course and continue to do the little things right, I think we’ll be real strong team down the stretch.”
Sheboygan has opened the young season with a 1-2-1 record. They dropped their first two games to Homestead and Grafton, but tied Ashwaubenon and topped Stevens Point Pacelli 3-1 on Sunday, suggesting the young Red Raiders are starting to figure things out.
Despite the early season growth, Bartholomaus said the landscape of the Fox River Classic Conference remains largely unknown. Like Sheboygan, a number of teams are dealing with the departure of significant talent and it remains to be seen which roster will prove capable of stepping up to fill the void.
“It should be a shake up in the conference because there’s no real frontrunner,” he said. “Notre Dame is always strong, but they’ve lost some of their high end talent as well. They’re still probably the early favorites. Bay Port lost a lot of seniors from last year and I expect De Pere to be real tough. They didn’t lose much from last year. I think we fit in the middle of the pack.”
Sheboygan will next play Saturday when they host conference foe Bay Port at 4:15 p.m.