Three tips: What Devils Lake Boys Hockey must do to succeed this season

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

DEVILS LAKE – The 2020-21 campaign was a year of character-building for the Devils Lake Firebirds Boys Hockey team. An optimistic way of looking at a 1-14 record would have illustrated as such. 

However, a new season brings a broader array of opportunities. So the saying goes, at least. 

The Firebirds will look to capitalize on these new opportunities, as will Tate Aronson, who takes over the head coaching helm in his first year donning the red and white. If Aronson and his new team wish to establish stable footing in the winning department, they will need to build a system and stick with it through the thick and thin. 

Here are three tips for the team heading into the 2021-22 season. 

The Devils Lake Firebirds huddle up on the ice to analyze a play during practice.

1. Start small...then build accordingly

A new head coach, coupled with a refurbished system, will logically bring growing pains. However, there is a bigger and much grander picture to look at than just the upcoming season. As the Firebirds look toward greener pastures, Aronson will look to mold his team into a gritty team synonymous with the blue-collar background of the surrounding community. 

“That is the community we live in, and the hockey team and the way I coach will hopefully reflect that,” Devils Lake head coach Tate Aronson said. “Learning in this first year, I am sure I will learn a lot of right ways to do it, and I am sure I will learn a lot of wrong ways to do it, too. But like I said, I will be learning right along with them…this will be a different ball game a little bit, but I am excited for the challenge, which I think everybody on the young team is, too.” 

2. Let the experience lead itself 

There is no doubt the Firebirds are losing experience at certain key positions. Forward/defenseman Jeremiah Hill (who was second on the team in points last season) and goaltender Braden Schmidtz are just a couple of names no longer in the Firebird ranks. 

Even still, there is experience coming back for one final push. In particular, it is forward/defenseman Camden Schwab who leads the way. The senior will look to take the top line by storm after he scored eight goals and tallied seven assists last season (both categories ranked first on the team). Meanwhile, senior goaltender Zach White will look to improve on his 4.84 Goals Against Average (GAA) and 1-9 record from a season ago. 

“For myself, I just want to lead the team,” Schwab said. “I have been with the team for five years, and I want to lead the team in the right direction and show them what we all know to do and just keep working hard and have a fun year.”

In conjunction with the youth, these players will be the backbone of a Devils Lake squad reeling for consistency in a year with more normalcy to its name. 

Devils Lake head coach Tate Aronson talks to his players during practice.

“The nice part is we do have a lot of experience coming back with the goaltender,” Aronson said. “…There is going to have to be some youth that must step up and fill those roles that graduated last year. There are some talented kids that moved up, and I am hoping that I have a couple of ideas that have some kids step in.” 

3. Aggression and discipline = not mutually exclusive

Aggression and ice hockey can almost go hand-in-hand with each other. However, while the Firebirds showed aggression last season, it was almost detrimental to them – their 148 total penalty infraction minutes (PIM) lapped the collective PIM of their opponents (116). 

Aronson wants aggression on his team, but in a refined way that emphasizes being clean and fluid in gaining or regaining puck control. With sharper angles and just a pinch of adjustment, the Firebirds can crank their athleticism up to the point where they are a threat in the back-checking and forechecking aspect of the game. 

“What I have always had my coaches teach me is to work hard,” Schwab said. “The only way we are going to win games is hard work and putting pressure on guys that are a lot faster and a lot better than we are. I like that way of coaching.” 

“I would like a high-pressure, aggressive team,” Aronson said. “Disciplined and clean, but aggressive, putting a lot of pressure on the opponent and hopefully forcing a lot of mistakes. That is how I have coached over the last few years. That is the game I think fits our team best and fits our community best.”