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New head coach Nick Lemke building fresh culture for Marlin boys

After a four-win season a year ago, Lemke has his sights set on the state tournament in his first season leading the Marlins.

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Mitchell's Tyson Sabers carries the puck during a boys high school hockey game on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022 at the Mitchell Activities Center.
Marcus Traxler / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — It’s a new era for the Mitchell Marlins boys.

In the first season under new head coach Nick Lemke, he’s changing the culture around the program. That started when he first took over, emphasizing camaraderie and conditioning.

And though it’s early, the results are telling of a shift in mentality surrounding the team.

“Last year didn’t quite go as planned,” Lemke said of the four-win season a year ago when he was an assistant coach. “We went back to the drawing board on a couple of things. … Everybody seems to be buying in. The attitudes are better, the success has been there.”

Part of the reason for the early success for the Marlins is due to players like forward Parker Denne and goaltender Drake Jerke having big seasons. Denne has 12 goals through the first four games, already surpassing his season total from last year, while Jerke has turned away 123 of the 130 shots that have come his way for a .946 save percentage and a 1.67 goals-against average.

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Along with Denne, his linemate Levi Loken has eight assists, many of which have come from a pass that Denne has put in the back of the net, and Lemke mentioned how strong the chemistry between the two players is. But that’s not where the biggest strength of the team lies, rather it’s the depth.

“We have some guys that are really good at certain areas but as a whole, we’re quite well rounded and that’s really been a key for us,” Lemke said.

The Marlins are also more conditioned this season, Lemke said. A lot of skating in the offseason has prepared the team to have more energy late in the game. That will also aid the Marlins, who frequently play late on Fridays and then have an early game Saturday.

The increased conditioning has also helped with the penalty kill, which to this point in the season Mitchell is a perfect 19-for-19. And on the power play, the Marlins are converting at a 40-percent clip, including a game against Watertown where they went 4-for-5 with the man advantage.

“That was one thing we needed to improve on from last year was our special teams,” Lemke said. “We have a nice little setup and rotation on our power plays where we think we have a couple options that we look to. … In the penalty kill, our main thing is just staying in position and waiting for them to make a mistake.”

With the hot start to the season at 3-0-1, the Marlins are just one win shy of their win total from last year, but simply improving isn’t what Lemke and his team have set out for this season. The goal for Mitchell is the state tournament — ideally around the No. 3 to No. 5 seed — and missing the state tournament last year didn’t sit well with the now-head coach.

“That’s a standard of mine," Lemke said, of making the state tournament. "(If not), it’s a disappointment. It’s an embarrassment if that happens under my watch. That would be one of my first standards is we’re going to make state and we’re not going in as an eight seed, we’re going to get in there comfortably.”

Zech Lambert is a sports reporter for the Mitchell Republic. He graduated from Penn State University in May 2022 and began at the Mitchell Republic in July 2022. He can be reached at zlambert@mitchellrepublic.com or on Twitter @Zech_Lambert.
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