By RON DEUTER
IRON MOUNTAIN - High school hockey season opens this weekend as the Kingsford Flivvers begin on the road in Houghton, facing downstate visitor Walled Lake.
Kingsford’s Marcus Andrews (9) battles for the puck during the 2013 hockey season.
The Flivvers, 9-15-1 a season ago, hope bigger size up front translates into a more physical approach, better production and more wins.
"We've got some pretty good sized forwards," Flivvers head coach Jim Peterson said. "Hopefully it makes us a little tougher in the corners. Maybe we can win some of those battles in the corner and come out with the puck and not have the defensemen push us around as much."
Kingsford will need to overcome the departures of the graduated all-state talent Ted Pietila (the team's leading scorer) and Reid Pietila, who transferred to Houghton.
Marcus Andrews, Brady Nettel, Luke Wahoviak, Alex Wiitanen, Dan Willman, Adam Szabo, Justin Rock, Justin Anderson Kyle Larson and goalie Wes Paupore are the returning members of the team.
Newcomers include seniors Brien Johnson and Cody Tompkins; sophomores Joe Berglund, Jacob Stoner, Jordan Wadge, Jake Gendron; and freshman Alex Shanks.
The Flivvers top line shows Andrews, Wiitanen and Nettel. Peterson has the depth to possibly run three lines, depending on the games and situations.
The second line features some of the Flivvers' increased size with Johnson and Zander on the wings. Zander is a converted defenseman. Wahoviak will center the line between the two.
"Luke has been skating real strong," Peterson said. "Johnson looks real good, a big strong forward."
Others in the rotation include Wadge, Willman, Tompkins and Stoner.
Willman is moving up from defense.
"He's not super fast, but he's a big kid with good hands," Peterson said. "He's got a good, quick shot."
The Flivvers will use six defensemen with Larson, Anderson, Rock, Szabo, Gendron and Shanks.
Coach Peterson likes what he has seen from the freshman Shanks.
"He's not big in size, but he knows the game well, has good vision," he said. "He really handles the puck well."
Peterson says his team plans to play a little smarter offensively this season.
"We were close in a lot of games last year, but maybe we got a little too cute or too fancy," he said. "I'm hoping this year we're going to go to the net a little better, put the puck to the net. We'll do a little more dumping in instead of trying to beat that defenseman.
"We had a lot of turnovers at the offensive blue line last season. We're trying to teach them to chip it around the defensemen, get it in deep and get behind their defensemen."
Defensively, Peterson said the team needs to cut down on the second and third chances.
"That's what killed us last year," he said. "We have to get better at exiting our zone and playing less in our zone. We need to get it out and getting it deep."
Paupore returns as the Flivvers primary netminder. Berglund is the back-up.
"Wes is looking good," Peterson said. "Joey, we're going to give him his shots."
The Flivver enter today's game without the benefit of a scrimmage. Kingsford has been practicing for three weeks.
"Judging our speed, it's hard to tell until you actually get up against an opponent," he said. "It looks good. We're excited. We've got a good bunch of kids here."
Peterson mentioned Houghton and Escanaba as two of the strongest teams in the U.P. again this season. Marquette is coming off a 7-20 season and with a new head coach.
Peterson's expects the Flivvers to be competitive with everyone.
"A good passing team will beat a faster team," Peterson said. "We've just got to move the puck. Play position, get it on the net and don't pass any chances."
Following today's game, the Flivvers will open at home against L'Anse on Monday, Dec. 2.