BELOIT - With only one senior on his current roster and around a dozen players expected to join it next season, head coach Kurt Buchs is already looking forward to the influx of talent.
Not that he's written this one off, though.
The Beloit Memorial co-op boys hockey team has just 17 players, but Buchs still expects to be more competitive than last season's 6-18-0 campaign.
"I think we'll be a little better this year because our younger players last year have a year under their belt and we have a pretty good freshmen group coming in I'm excited about," said Buchs as the Purple Knights prepare to start practicing on Monday, a week later than last season.
"The kids we have are hockey kids and they're here to play, not just be on the team. We had a really good summer with kids showing up for workouts. I think this group is a lot more engaged coming into the season than we were last year. The guys are excted to be here and we're looking to do a bit of a re-set on our culture and how we approach things. It's a good group to do that with since we're really young."
The Knights averaged less than two goals per game last season and allowed over five. They also lost their top two scorers, Kyle Hanaman and Sean McMillan, to graduation.
Buchs likes the scoring potential of sophomore Tyler Katalin and junior Aden Cobbs, however, and the defense does return All-Big Eight Second Team goalie Aidan Wright.
"Tyler and Aden finished last season strong and they have a year that helps them understand what the game is all about," Buchs said. "I look for them to play with confidence and have good seasons in terms of offense. As for Aidan, he's going to have to be our backbone this year. He's one of our captains this season and he and Tyler Harrington (the team's only senior). They've taken the reins and stepped up as leaders."
The Knights won their opening WIAA playoff game, 3-2 over the Kenosha Thunder, but then fell to Kettle Moraine in 5-0, despite 57 saves by Wright. He was peppered with 1,203 shots over the course of the season and stopped a whopping 1,073.
Wright suffered a broken collarbone as an offensive lineman on the BMHS football team, but Buchs said he has recovered from that injury.
"Aidan is close to 100 percent," Buchs said. "We've had some captains' practices and he's been out there. He's done a good job rehabbing. I think he'll be ready to go when the season starts. This year we have a freshman backup coming in, Jameson Flanigan, who should have a bright future as well with us."
As for the Big Eight Conference, the Knights won't have to do much to improve on last season's standings. They were just 2-11, beating winless Madison LaFollette/East twice.
"Realistically with our youth we're probably in the lower half of the Big Eight," Buchs said. "Sun Prairie, Verona, Middleton, they always are stacked. It's hard to chop down those big trees. But the one thing we won't have to worry about is our compete level. I think from top to bottom it will be better this year. That's a good place for us to start.
"I'm excited to work with this group."
• UP NEXT: The Knights will scrimmage Milton at 4 p.m. on Nov. 19 at Edwards Ice Arena. They open Big Eight play at Sun Prairie at 2 p.m., Nov. 23, then host a two-day tournament Nov. 29-30 at Edwards Ice Arena. Beloit plays Milton at 3:30 p.m. following Monroe vs. Greendale at 1 p.m.
• 2018-19 SCHEDULE: Nov. 23 - at Sun Prairie, 2 p.m.; 29 - BMHS TOURNAMENT at Edwards Ice Arena, Monroe vs. Greendale, 1 p.m.; Milton vs. Beloit, 3:30 p.m. 30 - Friday's losers at 9 a.m.; Friday's winners at 11:30 a.m.
Dec. 6 - at verona, 7 p.m.; 7 - at Madison Memorial (MIA), 7:30 p.m.; 12 - MADISON EAST/LAFOLLETTE, 7 p.m.; 17 - at West Bends West, 6:30 p.m.; 19 - MIDDLETON, 7 p.m.; 21 - JANESVILLE, 5 p.m.; 27 - at River Falls, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 4 - at Madison West (MIA); 7 - SUN PRAIRIE, 7 p.m.; 11 - VERONA, 5 p.m.; 16 - MONROE, 7 p.m.; 17 - at Greendale, 6:30 p.m.; 21 - at Madison East/LaFollette (Hartmeyer), 7:30 p.m.; 23 - at Janesville, 7 p.m.; 25 - MADISON MEMORIAL, 5 p.m.
Feb. 4 - MADISON WEST, 7 p.m.; 7 - at Sauk Prairie, 7 p.m.; 11 - WAUKESHA NORTH, 7 p.m.; 15 - OSHKOSH NORTH, 5 p.m.