BY ED WRIGHT
Nov. 24, 2009, 1:15 a.m.
The 2009-10 Plymouth High School hockey team is still in the getting-to-know-you stage, but everything senior captain Evan Swieczkowski knows about his fellow Wildcats he likes.
"This team is very close, everybody gets along," said the talented defenseman. "Our strength is definitely our depth. We have a lot of good forwards, a lot of different players with great vision who can skate fast, get off good, hard shots."
Swieczkowski sees no reason why the Wildcats won't improve significantly on the 12-10-3 record last year's team registered.
"Our team has really improved compared to last year," he said. "Our fourth line this year is probably as good as our second line last year. We have a lot of good new kids like Nick Schultz who work their butts off every day."
Head coach Paul Fassbender's early impressions of this year's squad mirror Swieczkowski's.
"Overall, we're faster and we have more skill," the third-year coach said. "We picked up some good players.
"Our strength should be scoring goals. We shouldn't have a problem putting the puck in the net this year. Our weakness at this point is probably our defense, just because we have a lot of new bodies, a lot of young bodies. They have to get accustomed to playing at this level."
Swieczkowski will be the team's anchor, Fassbender said, thanks to his combination of on-ice skill and off-ice leadership abilities.
"Evan's a great leader," Fassbender said. "He controls the ice when he's out there. He's a hard worker who speaks up when he needs to. He's really stepped it up the past couple of weeks, which is why he has earned the captaincy."
Also seeing regular shifts along the blue will be juniors Justin Bauer and Tyler Lazorka; and senior Ryan Cigile. Providing defensive depth will be junior Kevin Matusiak; sophomore Nate Stemberger; and freshmen Dean Gunther and Cam Nadell.
The Wildcats are stocked with a wealth of explosive forwards, including first-year senior Cody Hunt, returning seniors Ryan Renault and Pat Smiatacz; and slick-skating juniors Tyler Sanders, Zach Gambrell, Colin Wright and Ryan Bauer.
Other forwards Fassbender is looking to get significant contributions from include senior Taylor Currier; sophomores John Deal and Sean Smiatacz; and freshman Nick Schultz.
Junior Mike Justus, who enjoyed a breakout sophomore season, will start the season as the Wildcats' No. 1 goalie. He'll be backed up by senior Zach Vojcek.
The Kensington Lakes Activities Association should be its usual incredibly competitive self this season, Fassbender said.
"Novi will be one of the top teams along with Livonia Stevenson, like normal," he said.
The Wildcats opened their season with a 6-4 victory over East Kentwood on Saturday. Their home opener is Tuesday against Monroe. The opening face-off at Compuware Arena is set for 6:40 p.m.
Ed Wright can be reached at (734) 453-1980 or firstname.lastname@example.org.