The Grand Rapids Thunderhawks are going to be marching to a beat of a different drum this season with a lot of new faces coming to the varsity level. Rapids had their best team in over 5 years last year and looked poised to make a return trip to the State Tournament for the first time since 2007. They had a goal scoring machine in Avery Peterson leading the Thunderhawk's top line and one of the best goalies in the state in Hunter Shepard.
The Hawks had the second best record in their conference, posting a 5-1 record against conference opponents, scoring 40 goals and allowing just 7 goals to their opponents. Grand Rapids finished the regular season with a 17-8 record and marched their way into the conference finals, seeking that spot in the State tourney. Grand Rapids would fall short to their long time foe and Thunderhawk killer Duluth-East Greyhounds in the semi finals by a score of 5-2.
Now with top players such as Peterson and Shepard gone, second year head coach John Rothstein will look to re-build this young team in hopes to make another run in the Sections tournament and ultimately, bring his team back to State.
Even though Grand Rapids has lost their top goal scorer, four of their top five players in points will be returning for this season. Jonah Bischoff, younger brother of former Rapids player Jake Bischoff, will look to step up in a big way offensively this year. He didn't put up 60+ points like his teammate Peterson, but Jonah put up very respectable number last year, scoring 16 goals, 24 assists and was a plus 0. He also lead the team in game-winning goals with 5.
Grand Rapids also has forwards Jason Koehn and Brenden Mark returning as Juniors this year. They spent most of their time playing on the third line last year, but came up big in key moments late in the season, in particular a double overtime thriller against Forest Lake. These guys are very physical and can create scoring chances with their aggressive style of play and sustaining forecheck.
Grand Rapids won't be a high scoring power house as they were last season, but they should still be a very well-rounded offensive team. The biggest concern for them is goaltending. Hunter Shepard was a workhorse in his three years at the varsity level, going 42-14-3 with an impressive .915 save percentage. With Shepard graduated, Rothstein will likely turn to Noah Troumbly to take the reigns as the starting goaltender. Troumbly hasn't seen a lot of playing time in recent years with Hunter Shepard carrying a majority of the workload, so it's hard to say how he will re-act and perform under high pressure situations during critical games. Junior netminder Joe Burt will see some time in net as well. Burt has been playing goalie for quite some time and should be a solid backup to Troumbly.
It's too early to tell if Grand Rapids has what it takes to put together another spectacular season like last season, but locals have been saying in recent years that this younger Rapids team that is coming up is going to be a good one. We'll know sooner than later as Grand Rapids has some very tough opponents in the early stages of this season. Here's a look at the Thunderhawks schedule, courtesy of grhshockey.com
Mon, 11/10/14 3:30 PM Practice Begins IRA Civic Center
Tue, 11/25/14 7:30 PM @ Bemidji Bemidji High School
Sat, 11/29/14 7:30 PM @ Forest Lake FLAAA Sports Center
Tue, 12/2/14 7:30 PM Virginia/Mt. Iron-Buhl IRA Civic Center
Fri, 12/5/14 7:30 PM Roseau IRA Civic Center
Sat, 12/6/14 2:00 PM Warroad IRA Civic Center
Fri, 12/12/14 7:30 PM Duluth Marshall IRA Civic Center
Sat, 12/13/14 3:00 PM Lakeville North IRA Civic Center
Thu, 12/18/14 8:30 PM @ Edina Braemar Arena
Fri, 12/19/14 6:00 PM @ Eden Prairie Braemar Arena
Sat, 12/20/14 6:00 PM @ Elk River Braemar Arena
Tue, 12/23/14 7:30 PM @ Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Northwoods Credit Union Arena
Mon, 12/29/14 7:30 PM Mahtomedi IRA Civic Center
Tue, 12/30/14 7:30 PM St. Francis IRA Civic Center
Wed, 12/31/14 3:00 PM Brainerd IRA Civic Center
Fri, 1/2/15 7:30 PM @ Andover Andover Community Center
Sat, 1/3/15 3:00 PM @ Hopkins Pavilion Ice Arena
Tue, 1/6/15 7:30 PM @ Hermantown Hermantown Arena
Thu, 1/8/15 7:30 PM @ Duluth East Heritage Sports Center
Tue, 1/13/15 7:30 PM Cloquet-Esko-Carlton IRA Civic Center
Thu, 1/15/15 7:30 PM Hibbing/Chisholm IRA Civic Center
Fri, 1/23/15 7:30 PM @ Wayzata Plymouth Ice Center
Sat, 1/24/15 3:00 PM @ White Bear Lake Vadnais Sports Center
Sat, 1/31/15 3:00 PM @ Moorhead Moorhead Sports Center
Fri, 2/6/15 7:30 PM International Falls IRA Civic Center
Tue, 2/10/15 7:30 PM Duluth Denfeld IRA Civic Center