Photo by Eric Stauffer
Members of the Bethalto Eagles' ice hockey team gather on the ice together during the MVCHA Class 1A championship series with the Collinsville Kahoks at the East Alton Ice Arena on Feb. 22-23. The Eagles finished runner-up to Collinsville after losing the best-of-three series 2-0 and snapping their 7-game winning streak.
Like any varsity team that suffers key losses, the Bethalto Eagles will look for leadership in key positions next year.
The Eagles lose five seniors from this year’s squad that finished runner-up in the MVCHA Class 1A postseason — goalkeepers Justin Meyer and Alec Hilliard and forwards Justin Wendle, Gage Wendle and Kirklyn Hansen.
Justin Wendle and Alec Hilliard both played for the Eagles for four years. Hansen, Meyer and Gage Wendle, no relation to Justin, all played for Jerseyville last year. The Jerseyville and Bethalto teams entered into a co-op arrangement this year because of a lack of numbers in the Jerseyville program.
Replacing the talented goalie duo will be a chore. Hilliard was 9-5 with an .887 save percentage and 6.30 goals against average, while Meyer went 5-5 with an .869 save percentage and 6.47 goals against average. Both were MVCHA 1A all-stars for the East Division.
“We’re losing both of our goalies,” Eagles coach Derek Kahl said. “I have a goalie on the bench (Kyle Wesolowski) that’s played a lot of junior varsity hockey. I’m going to lose a lot of leadership in the net. I’m going to lose a lot of leadership from my seniors. Some of them started playing as eighth-graders.”
Wesolowski received a limited amount of varsity playing time but went 17-6 as a junior varsity goalkeeper.
“Kyle is a kid I’ve coached since he was younger,” Kahl said. “I’ve always known him as a solid goalie.”
Kahl also said the consolidation with Jerseyville took some adjusting.
“It took a while for all of these kids to become comfortable with playing on the same team,” he said. “It takes a while for two teams to gel.”
The Eagles’ top scorer — junior forward Konnar Loewen — finished the season with 30 goals and 18 assists for 48 points. He will be a welcomed returning player next season.
Bethalto also returns five other juniors: defensemen Jayden Kahl (20 goals, 6 assists), Jacoby Robinson (5 goals, 11 assists) and Brendan Bollini (5 goals, 5 assists) as well as forwards Joseph Watson (24 goals, 17 assists) and Anthony Russo (11 goals, 13 assists). Coach Kahl admitted returning the top goal scorers is an asset.
The Eagles will look to build on their accomplishments from ‘15-16. They finished the season with a 14-11 mark. Bethalto played for the MVCHA Class 1A championship but lost the best-of-three series 2-0. Collinsville defeated the Eagles 6-3 Feb. 22 and 6-4 Feb. 23.
Aside from the final series, Bethalto finished the season strong — stringing a seven-game winning streak together that started with an 8-1 regular season win over Highland Jan. 11 and concluded with a 6-1 postseason win over East-Alton Wood River Feb. 16. The win over EA-WR sent the Eagles into the championship round of the 1A playoffs. They were the top seed entering the postseason.
“I’m proud of the way the kids came together and played this year,” Kahl said. “We got to the final round of playoffs.
“One thing I’m proud of is that the boys didn’t give up; they battled until the end.”
As for that seven-game winning streak, Kahl won’t soon forget that. It will come to his mind when he reminisces about the ‘15-16 campaign on the ice.
“It was the highlight of our year,” Kahl said. “They went out and played the game they knew how to play. We were moving the puck and passing.”
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