Following winning its first-ever championship in team history, the Mehlville Senior High School varsity hockey club is facing a building year in 2013-2014.
The Panthers lost four seniors who were a big part of the 2012-2013 Mid-States Club Hockey Association’s Founders Cup championship team. But last year’s squad got off to a slow start, too, so fans can still be optimistic.
Mehlville head coach Jim Arno said his players just need to get better every game.
“It’s going to be a growing year. We are very young,” he said. “Our whole defense consists of freshman and sophomores. We are going to have it handed to us, but the kids are going to learn how to be a better team.
“Basically, it’s like last year’s team. It’s always going to be a work in progress because you just don’t know what the final line is going to be until you get to the playoffs.
Arno praised his players’ work ethic.
“The guys are all working hard, but it’s going to be tough on them — their mental state of being sure that the progression is there and that we set new baselines every time we hit the ice. That’s going to make them stronger this year, if not next year as well. The most important thing is growth.”
While the Panthers are off to a 0-4-1 start this season, Arno said he has already started to see some improvement.
“I would say it’s going to take us until midseason like it did last year to get us back in the swing of things,” he said. “Usually teams come out hot in the beginning and we are a slow starter I can see a lot of improvement even in the three games we’ve played. We got stronger as the game went on.”
Arno said his squad’s obvious weakness is its youth.
“They are learning how to play varsity hockey,” he said. “The strength is really the future, what we can do with this team. We do have a good captain, Justin Cole. He leads by example. He is a good leader and he’s a senior. And Joey Parker — he’s a goal scorer.
“It’s just going to be a learning curve for everyone. It’s kind of hard to peg it all on one person.”
Some additional weapons the Panthers have up front are Tommy Loeffelman, Adam Ryffel and Nick Durham
“The great thing about it is that outside, Joey and Justin, they are sophomores. So that’s going to be a good future for us,” Arno said.
With all of the parts that need to be tweaked on the blue line and the red line, one area that Mehlville does have some stability is between the pipes with Nick Harkins.
“Our goaltender is the same from last year. He had a strong last year and as a sophomore he just grew as the season went on, and he’s going to do the same thing again,” Arno said.