Dylan Brown

Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells' Dylan Brown brings the puck into Waunakee's zone during a game last season.

REEDSBURG -- The Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells boys hockey team was just a few goals shy of advancing to the state tournament last season.

The Cheavers ended an impressive 2016 season with a 5-2 loss to West Salem in a WIAA sectional championship. RWD finished the year 17-7 overall, and the Cheavers are hoping to make a similar run this season.

Offensively, the team, which averaged four goals a game last season, will be just as strong. RWD features a stellar senior class, including forward Dylan Brown, a unanimous first team All-Badger North Conference selection from last year. Despite an injury, which kept Brown from playing until mid-January, Brown ended his junior year second on the team in points with 33.

“Dylan’s a hard worker. He’s been excited for it all summer long, being that he had a shortened season last year,” RWD coach Neil Mattson said. “He’s a leader in the locker room, he’s a leader on the ice and is just a good all-around kid, and I’m excited to see what he does in his senior year.”

Brown will be joined by sophomore Derek Pawlak, who was third in team points during his freshman year with 13 goals and 18 assists. Senior Ben Horzewski will also play a big role as he collected 22 points last year. Seniors Jacob Ely (14 points), and Tarren Gruber (nine points) will be in the offensive mix as well.

“I keep telling the seniors, these 24 games are going to go by just like that and next think you know you’re off to college and second guessing why you didn’t do something,” Mattson said. “But it’s a fantastic senior class.”

RWD will certainly feel the loss of Chris Jones, who led the team in points with 47, collecting 34 goals and 13 assists. Mattson said he’s expecting junior Ben Jones and sophomore Thomas Pfaff to help take some of the workload Chris Jones provided the team with.

“Thomas Pfaff logged a lot of minutes in the regular season, not so much in the playoffs last year because he was a freshman, so that’s kind of how we groomed him to get him matured and acclimated," Mattson said. "Definitely counting on him to fill some of those spots. And then we’ve got Chris Jones’ younger brother Ben Jones, who, if I can equal (Chris Jones’) total output between two players, that’s awesome, and we’ll achieve what we needed to get back.”

Chris Jones also played a big role on the opposite side of the ice as a main defender. RWD lost three other key defensemen due to graduation, including Alek Severson, Garon Kirby and unanimous first team all-conference goalie Dylan Stein. Stein finished last year’s regular season with a .918 save percentage, recording 539 saves on the season.

“We return a lot of talent from last year’s team depth-wise up front. On the backside on defense we’re going to have some work to do for some fill-ins because we lost a lot from graduation,” Mattson said.

The Cheavers will rely on Gruber, senior Nathan Kruser nd juniors Jon Zobel and Noah Michel as the more experienced defensemen while a few talented underclassmen join the mix in freshman Connor Schyvinck and sophomores Ben Fish and Mason Luehman.

In front of the net will most likely be senior Nicolas Breunig, who saw 51 minutes in goal last year, saving 17 shots.

“For goalie, Nicolas Breunig the senior, Brenden Karas and Logan Sullivan have been fighting hard for the spot, but right now well give it to the senior and as long as he earns it, he keeps it,” Mattson said.

Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells will have a tough stretch of games to start the season, as the first six are on the road, including Friday's season-opening 8-2 loss to Homestead. The stretch also includes road games against Middleton, Stoughton and Waunakee.

Mattson said his team is looking forward to a tough opening stretch.

“I’d rather play a good test of a game, get the guys ready for the season versus a team where you go out and beat 10, 12, 13 to nothing which isn’t good for anybody.”

In the Badger North, Mattson said Sauk Prairie, Waunakee, and DeForest will all be strong but anyone could take the title this year.

“Top to bottom I know the Badger North is pretty equal," Mattson said. "I know Baraboo is down in numbers this year, Sauk Prairie returns nearly the entire team from last year, they knocked us off, cost us the conference losing to them last year. Waunakee, they’re always a favorite and DeForest returns a ton of kids this year, so I think it’s anybody’s game.”

Homestead 8, RWD 2

Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells opened its season with an 8-2 loss to the Homestead Highlanders on Friday night at the Ozaukee Ice Center.

The only two goals of the game for RWD were both scored by Ben Jones, and assisted by Jacob Ely and Nathan Kruser in the second period. The first goal made it 3-1, and the second goal, which came just 12 seconds later, pulled RWD to within a goal at 3-2.

Homestead was led by Pierce Stastney and Jackson Katz, who both had three goals and an assists in the victory. Drew Gebhardt added four assists in the win.

Nicolas Breunig got the call in goal for RWD. He finished with 18 saves.

Follow Chris on Twitter @chris_CNsports

Regional Sports Reporter