Rogers is the up and coming engine in big-school hockey.
A strong and growing youth program has made for a crop of budding superstars at the metro's northwestern edge, and each year the Royals collectively inch forward.
So when you look to replace two Mr. Hockey finalists (Sam Ranallo and Chase Cheslock) from last year’s team that reached its second-straight section final, new roles are created and new identities must be forged.
Certainly, the tandem of Parker Deschene and Mason Jenson, along with newly added right wing Cole Bumgarner, will get plenty of attention. Jenson, an Ohio State commit, had 22 goals and 51 points last year as a sophomore, and just wrapped up a successful Upper Midwest High School Elite League season where he led the league with 20 goals. Deschene had 20 goals and 43 points last year as well.
But no top-10 team can get by with one top line, and Rogers is no exception. Rogers coach Dave Brown calls his one of his forward units the "Captain Line," and the captains are expected to steer the ship.
They did Saturday afternoon at Bloomington Ice Garden as senior captain Brandon Swanson jumpstarted Rogers 3:57 into the second period and Royals flushed a listless first to work its way through to defeat St. Thomas Academy 4-2.
Swanson, along with captain right winger Drew Krekelberg and alternate captain and left winger Keaton Weis, hammered back on St. Thomas Academy’s heavy and ultra-structured effort, and it changed the dynamic, while establishing the 1-2 forward line punch Rogers is counting on.
“They set the pace and they set the standard,” Brown said of the line of captains. “When we are playing at our best, they are the engine. For them to grow into their roles, as we lose (Sam Ranallo and Chase Cheslock), it says a lot about their character and their work ethic so that we’ve come out of the gates the way we have.”
Nothing changed, Swanson said, they just played Royals hockey, and the game began to come to them.
“We just wanted to try to keep it simple, work hard, and stick to the plan,” he said. “We know you can’t try to do all of it by yourself.”
At the same time, the juniors on the other top line are expected to shine. Brown can count on it.
“They bring so much speed, skill and heart,” Brown said of his top two lines. “They play a true 200-foot game, and when they are clicking on all cylinders, it’s an unbelievable 1-2 punch.”
Jenson echos Brown’s description of a 1-2 punch.
“I think we are all super skilled, and we are all just getting started,” he said.
It was a solidifying experience for the Royals as well. Finding oneself in difficult games so early, and being forced to work through problems, is what all coaches crave.
“It was good for us,” Brown said. “This group is such a family and so tight-knit that now we can really battle adversity well in the moment.
“Sometimes we have a tendency when we are behind that we’re going to try to do it all ourselves,” he added. “But it’s important to stick to the plan. And when we stick to our plan, this team is so much fun to watch.”
Sophomore Cole Baumgarner broke a late tie, scoring the game-winner with 2:06 left, as Rogers rallied from an early deficit to beat St. Thomas Academy 4-2 Saturday at the Bloomington Ice Garden in the second round of The Opener holiday tournament.
It was the second win in as many days for the No. 6-2A ranked Royals, who blitzed St. Cloud 9-1 on Friday.
Rogers trailed by one after allowing a shorthanded goal in the first period. The Royals went to work and won the second and third periods, effectively problem-solving their way through St. Thomas Academy’s neutral zone trap.
The Royals added an empty-netter from Jake Vukich with 1:27 remaining. Brandon Swanson and Mason Jensen also scored for the Royals.
Jimmy Zavoral scored both goals for St. Thomas Academy.
Rogers senior goaltender Aiden Dietrich stopped 22 shots for the victory, while final shots favored the Royals, 31-24.