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BOYS HOCKEY: Jacks take the ice at The Gardens to open 2017-18 season

Bemidji's Hunter Olson skates with the puck during a game against Buffalo last season at Bemidji Community Arena. The Lumberjacks open their season tonight at Warroad. (Pioneer File Photo)

BEMIDJI -- Following the girls high school hockey game at 4:30 p.m. in Warroad tonight, the boys team kicks off its season at 6:30 p.m. against the Warriors at The Gardens.

After weeks of practice, the Jacks are anxious to get the game schedule started.

“I think they’re excited to get going,” head coach Eric Monsrud said. “They’ve worked really hard in practice leading up to the start of the season, so I think they’re ready to go and we’ll see what happens.”

Bemidji is coming off a 14-11-1 season that ended with a 5-4 overtime loss to Brainerd in the first round of the Section 8AA tournament.

With the loss of the team’s top three scorers in Alex Pollock (13g, 19a), Brady Tatro (14g, 11a) and Chase Hartje (4g, 21a) a season ago, the Jacks will be looking for scorers to step up early in the season.

And senior goaltender Matt Fitzgerald will be a key leader from the blue paint. Due to his .922 save percentage and 2.06 goals against average last year, he was recently named a member of Let’s Play Hockey’s top 50 players in Minnesota for this season.

As far as line combinations and defensive pairings, Monsrud said the team has a plan to start with, but it’s subject to change as needed.

“We’ve been working together since we put the lines together over a week ago, and they’ve been working together, said Monsrud. “Things look good, and if we have to tweak things here and there throughout the year, we’ll do that.”

With several practice sessions behind them, the Jacks are ready to hit the ground running against Warroad tonight.

“Practice has been really good,” Monsrud said. “The kids have worked really hard. They haven’t veered off course, and I can’t ask for anything better. These kids have that work ethic already instilled in them, so very blessed with that. And so now it’s just a matter of getting out there and getting that first game under our belt and just kind of see where we stand.

“For some guys, it’s gonna be their first varsity action and for some it’s their first high school action, so it’s a pretty exciting night for everybody.”

The Warriors are coming off a tough 11-16-1 season a year ago, but Monsrud is ready for a better team to exit the tunnel in tonight’s opener.

“It’s gonna be a tough game, he said. “Every time we play Warroad, they’re always tough games. It doesn’t matter what the season they had before is, every year is gonna be different with them, and all I know is they’re very consistent with how hard they play and they also work hard. So we’re just gonna have to be able to play our A-game tomorrow night to match what they’re gonna throw at us.”