Marlin boys gear up for first state tournament appearance in six years
The Marlins are headed to the state tournament, slotting in as the No. 5 seed after an 11-10-1 regular season.
MITCHELL — There’s been an undeniable change in the first season under new head coach Nick Lemke for the Marlin boys hockey team.
For the first time in six years, the Marlins are headed to the state tournament, slotting in as the No. 5 seed after an 11-10-1 regular season.
Coming into the year, Lemke’s goal was to finish in the top five and qualify for state, which is exactly what his team did, though there were still opportunities he said he’d like to have back.
“Toward the end of the season we started to hit our groove and perform better as a team,” Lemke said. “(Prior to the season) I wanted to be fifth or better. We accomplished that, but we definitely feel like we let a couple of games get away that we should have won.”
There was a stark improvement in nearly every category from last year to this year. The Marlins scored more goals, allowed fewer goals, had more assists, more power-play goals, a high power-play percentage, a better penalty-kill percentage, a better save percentage in net and a lower goals-against average.
The only regression was in penalties, where the Marlins took 138 compared to the 99 they committed last year. But even despite the increase in penalties, the penalty kill still improved.
Led on offense by Parker Denne, who posted a team-high 29 goals, which ranked fourth in the state, the Marlins found the back of the net 99 times this season. Levi Loken paced the Marlins with 27 assists and 43 points, good for fifth and eighth in the state, respectively. Tanner Puetz and Tyson Sabers both put up 22 points on the season, while Lukas Jerke (18), Mick Dailey (16) and Kaden Contreras all cracked double digits.
That scoring depth is something Lemke pointed to as one of Mitchell’s strongest assets going into the state tournament.
“We have a top six that’s kind of hard for anybody to really match,” Lemke said. “I think our top six is just as good as anyone else's top six, and as long as they're all clicking, we can keep up with anybody. We just have to make our chances count.”
In net, Drake Jerke has gotten the lion’s share of the playing time and has been solid all season long. He posted a 10-10-1 record with a .889 save percentage and a 3.54 goals-against average, while picking up two shutouts, which tied him for third in the state.
Lemke said as the season has progressed, Jerke has continued to get better, with both of his shutouts coming in the two of the last last three weekends of the regular season.
“There’s some very strong goaltending throughout the state, and luckily we have that,” Lemke said. “Drake has really come on lately. … We can’t make a run at state without goaltending.”
With Mitchell’s combination of goal-scoring depth and goaltending, the Marlins pose as a dangerous No. 5 seed in the state tournament. And the focus level will be the same going into the state tournament as it has been all season.
The Marlins drop the puck on their state tournament run against Rushmore on Friday, March 10, in Brookings. The Marlins dropped both contests to Rushmore this season, losing 7-2 on Jan. 20, and 8-2 on Feb. 3.
“We’re going to give it 100% every night,” Lemke said of his team’s mindset this season. “It doesn’t matter if we’re playing the No. 1 seed or the tenth seed. … We’re here to play 100% of our ability level.”