NEGAUNEE - His Negaunee High School hockey team has gotten off to a late start due to the postseason success of the school's football program, but head coach Eric Hill doesn't mind.
"It's a good problem to have," he said. "We have some football players on our team. They've had a taste of winning and have the mentality of what it takes.
"It's going to take a while for them to take their cleats off and get skates underneath them, but I think they'll bring a contagious attitude."
Hill has 22 skaters on a team that went 3-21-1 last season, including two freshmen and 12 sophomores.
"A lot of the sophomores were with us last year," he said. "We'll be pretty young, but with more experience."
The Miners, with just four practices under their belts before opening the season tonight against Lapeer in the Alpena Tournament, will have sophomores Tyler Riutta and Anthony Moyle in goal.
2012-13 NHS hockey schedule
Nov. 16vs. Lapeer at Alpena8:30 p.m.
Nov. 17at Alpena TournamentTBA
Nov. 20Houghton7 p.m.
Nov. 27Jeffers7 p.m.
Dec. 6Marquette7 p.m.
Dec. 10at Kingsford7 p.m.
Dec. 14at Escanaba TournamentTBA
Dec. 15at Escanaba TournamentTBA
Dec. 18at Escanaba7 p.m.
Dec. 20L'Anse7 p.m.
Dec. 27at Escanaba tournament7 p.m.
Dec. 28at Escanaba Tournament7 p.m.
Jan. 4at Jeffers TournamentTBA
Jan. 5at Jeffers TournamentTBA
Jan. 8at Houghton7 p.m.
Jan. 14at Jeffers7 p.m.
Jan. 17at Hancock7 p.m.
Jan. 22Calumet7 p.m.
Jan. 29Escanaba7 p.m.
Jan. 31Kingsford7 p.m.
Feb. 1at Jeffers (at Mich. Tech)7 p.m.
Feb. 4Hancock7 p.m.
Feb. 7at L'Anse7 p.m.
Feb. 14at Calumet7 p.m.
Feb. 19at Marquette7 p.m.
All times Eastern; Home games in bold
"Both are quick, athletic and like to compete," Hill said. "I may alternate them, or go with the guy who's hot. We'll see."
Expected to head the Miners' defensive corps are seniors Ely Goupille and Bryce Blewett.
"Both are returning and are three-year players," Hill said. "They're good, solid, defensive-minded defensemen who will take the offensive opportunity if presented."
Other blueliners include junior Ryan Ely, sophomore Luke Jacobson and freshman Alex Roth. Senior Taylor Bischof, as well as sophomores Evan LaBelle, Ryan Bischof and Cole Francis, may also see playing time as defensemen.
"We'll have to be good in our defensive zone and not give up as many shots (as last season)," Hill said.
Up front, senior centers Dustin Goupille and Nathan Clisch will be counted upon for offensive fireworks.
Hill said Goupille, who has played for the Marquette Electricians Midget AAA squad, will center a line that includes sophomores Chad Larson and Michael Farley.
Clisch will start off between Francis and sophomore Ethan Ledford, the coach said.
Sophomore Ryan Syrjala and senior Alex Ledford - "a hustler who works hard" - will also skate as forwards.
Other front line players include junior Cody Wetton, sophomores Connor Hetrick and Eric Farley, and freshman Jeffrey Matthews.
"Matthews has caught our eye," Hill said, "but I'm pleasantly surprised with all the new talent coming in.
"We should have a good mix both offensively - with a balanced two or three lines - and defensively."
With so many young players, Hill said the future should look bright for the Miners.
"We want to get better every drill, every shift, every game," he said. "We're looking forward to the season and our goal is committing to the program and building the program every day."
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251.