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Grand Rapids Looks to Improve Despite Loss of Key Players

The Grand Rapids Thunderhawks fell short of the State Tournament once again last season, despite finishing with one of the best records in the state. Despite the loss of key players, head coach John Rothstein looks to lead his team and continue to improve in hopes of reaching the State Tournament.

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

November

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

December

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

January

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

February

Fri, 2/6/15 7:30 PM International Falls IRA Civic Center

Tue, 2/10/15 7:30 PM Duluth Denfeld IRA Civic Center