The early-season success of the Tartan boys' hockey team, which is loaded with experienced upperclassmen, can be summed up quite easily.
"I just think we know the game better," senior captain Eric Olheiser said.
Fourteen seniors help make up this roster, and most of them have been with the team for three years. Many were thrust into major roles as sophomores. That's not an easy task, as reflected by Tartan's record of 12-13 two seasons ago and 10-16-1 last year.
"Our underclassmen had to step up, and it's a little hard to win in this conference with sophomores," head coach Steve Romanchuk said.
The coaches are now seeing the payoff of those growing pains.
"There's some maturity there," Romanchuk said. "They've grown up a lot and they know how to handle adversity because they've been through so much the last couple years."
The Titans are now enjoying the view they've earned from their experiences. Tartan began the season 8-0 before suffering its first loss, against Hill-Murray on Dec. 20. Most impressive, five of those victories were shutouts. Many teams struggle to muster one shutout all season. Few are able to register multiple.
Junior goaltender Gabe Splichal has a .938 save percentage and 1.67 goals-against average to go with his eight victories.
"Gabe's been solid. Very solid," Romanchuk said. "He's made the saves he should have made and then the saves he probably shouldn't have made."
That stellar net play has given the position players more confidence, but they're not short on talent, either. Tartan's top line has proved to be a serious scoring threat.
Senior Jake Jackson, a Michigan Tech recruit, leads the Titans with eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points. Jackson is surrounded by two 18-point juniors. Brady O'Sullivan has registered five goals and a team-high 13 assists. Zach Ledman leads the squad with 10 goals.
"Pretty talented group of kids," Romanchuk said. "They can score, there's no doubt about it."
Olheiser pivots a solid second line for the Titans. Jacob Picht and Mike Winberg have provided offense from the blue line. Combined, they've registered eight goals and 27 points.
While the 6-0 loss to Class 2A No. 3 Hill-Murray was tough, Romanchuk said the game was closer than the score indicated. Hill-Murray led 2-0 heading into the third period. Tartan had scoring opportunities but couldn't convert. The coach knew his older group of kids wouldn't hang their heads.
"These kids are pretty resilient," Romanchuk said.
They responded with a 5-2 victory over Henry Sibley just two days later to get back on the winning track and move to 9-1.
The Titans will face off against South St. Paul on Thursday before traveling to play conference rival and Class 1A and No. 1-ranked St. Thomas Academy at 3 p.m. Saturday. While the schedule is heating up, expectations and confidence remains high on this surprising squad.
"We expect to win every game. We said our goal was to win every game," Olheiser said.