By Craig Marx, Editor
One game into the season thus far (following a 9-0 road win over Medford last week) the 2016-17 Antigo Red Robins hockey team begins this year ranked No. 10 in the state according to Wisconsin Prep Hockey and is coming off of a particularly successful run last season that saw Coach Matt Borneman, assistants Eric Schroeder and Brett Zelazoski, and their Robin men reach the WIAA state playoffs in Madison.
The Robins lost 13 seniors coming off of their 2015-16 campaign due to graduation, including the likes of Wisconsin Mr. Hockey finalist Alex Nagel, an elite forward that split 66 points on the year evenly between 33 goals and just as many assists. The loss of leadership and upperclassmen does not hamper the coaching staff in preparing its new crop of young men for another year.
“We have guys that are strong leaders and will have to step up. These guys are working really hard this year and are playing for each other,” Coach Borneman said during a practice this past week.
Antigo finished 20-3-1 in the regular season last year, claiming a Great Northern Conference title. The biggest accomplishment of the year, however, in addition to making it state itself, was a 3-1 victory over the Wausau West Warriors to claim a sectional championship against a team that has historically gotten the best of the Robins in the playoffs recently.
Following the emotional effort displayed in the win over Wausau West, the Robins met their season’s end in the first round of the WIAA state tournament at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison against a very talented Eau Claire Memorial team in a 5-1 defeat. Antigo was able to get on the board first following a Gavin Bunnell power play goal, but the second and third periods unfortunately belonged to Old Abes, a team that even included a Junior Olympian in defenseman Ty Emberson.
With many of the team’s leaders from last year’s state-bound run now departed, the talent and productivity of two returning starters in Adam Schmidt and Tyler Husnick will prove to be essential on Antigo’s top line. Husnick (59 points, 22 goals and 37 assists) and Schmidt (43 points, 19 goals and 24 assists) represent the No. 2 and 3 spots, respectively, in total points from last season. Six of the next seven spots on that list from 2015-16 belonged to players that are now graduated, with the exception of returning sophomore CJ Levis (21 points, 12 goals and 9 assists).
Perhaps the most crucial return is that of senior goaltender Ben Bartletti. The then-junior netminder put together a brilliant season as a first-year starter in place of Ryan Schmidt, winning 19 regular season and three playoff games in which he posted four total shutouts, a .920 save percentage, and a 1.53 goals allowed average. Backing up Bartletti this season will be freshman Brody Bunnell, taking the place of now-graduated alternate goalie Noah Sennholz.
The schedule in and of itself is much like the past few seasons – difficult and marked with marquee matchups yet at the same time challenging in a way that allows the coaching staff to see team’s level of play early in the season and prepare for the road ahead. The biggest difference in the upcoming 2016-17 scheduling year is the narrowing of GNC conference games for Antigo against what have been agreed upon as smaller programs. The Robins face Medford, Tomahawk, and Lakeland just once each this year in games that will be counted as double in terms of league points and win/losses.
The new conference scoring will most likely benefit all parties involved. In home and away games against the three abovementioned GNC programs, Antigo was 55-4 last season.
This new season holds something special for the Robins, where a few seasoned veterans will have a chance to work with their teammates in the face of daunting schedule that many of the men have seen before, including multiple games on the road. This is also the first senior class entering this year to be taught entirely under the tutelage of Coach Borneman and his staff, demonstrating the recent success the Robin program has had in conditioning its young men to be among the top hockey players in the state of Wisconsin.
Marquee non-conference matchups to look out for this year include: at Superior (12/5/16), vs. Notre Dame (1/3/17), and vs. Wausau West (1/31/17).
2016 AHS Boys Hockey Schedule
Monday, November 21 – at Medford (W 9-0) – Simek Center
Tuesday, November 29 – at Stevens Point – K.B. Willett Center
Friday, December 2 – at New Richmond – New Richmond Sports Center
Saturday, December 3 – at Superior – Wessman Arena
Tuesday, December 6 – vs. Waupaca – Langlade County Multi-Purpose Building
Thursday, December 8 – at Tomahawk – SARA Park
Thursday, December 15 – at Lakeland – Lakeland Ice Arena
Friday, December 16 – at Neenah/Hortonville/Menasha – Tri-County Ice Arena
Saturday, December 17 – at Fond du Lac Springs – Blue Line Family Ice Center
Tuesday, December 20 – at Northland Pines – Eagle River Ice Arena
Thursday, December 29 – vs. Bay Port – Langlade County Multi-Purpose Building
Friday, December 30 – TBD
Tuesday, January 3 – Notre Dame – Langlade County Multi-Purpose Building
Friday, January 6 – at KM/Mukwonago – Naga-Waukee Park Ice Arena
Saturday, January 7 – at Waukesha – Naga-Waukee Park Ice Arena
Thursday, January 12 – at Waupaca – Waupaca Expo
Friday, January 20 – vs. Somerset – Langlade County Multi-Purpose Building
Saturday, January 21 – vs. Chippewa Falls – Langlade County Multi-Purpose Building
Tuesday, January 24 – at Mosinee – Mosinee Rec Center
Tuesday, January 31 – vs. Wausau West – Langlade County Multi-Purpose Building
Thursday, February 2 – vs. Northland Pines – Langlade County Multi-Purpose Building
Saturday, February 4 – vs. West Salem – Langlade County Multi-Purpose Building
Tuesday, February 7 – vs. Mosinee – Langlade County Multi-Purpose Building
Thursday, February 9 – at Rhinelander – Rhinelander Ice Arena