In just two seasons, the Minot Minotauros have gone from a seven-win team to a playoff-caliber franchise.
Last year's marked progression has the Tauros seeking a deep playoff run in the program's third season.
Marty Murray returns for his second full season as coach after guiding the Tauros to a 26-30-4 regular season record and their first playoff appearance a year ago. The Tauros open this season against Corpus Christi (Texas) at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in the North American Hockey League Showcase in Blaine, Minn.
MDN File Photo
Minot forwards Tim Donohue (18) and Jadin Martin (16) begin their third season with the Tauros on Wednesday. Martin is the top returning scorer with 30 points on 11 goals and 19 assists.
"We want to build off of what we did last year," Murray said. "We want to be well over .500 and make the playoffs and see what kind of noise we can make from there."
While Minot's high expectations haven't changed, its roster has. The Tauros return just seven players from last year. Eighteen others will don the Tauros sweater for a first time.
Among the returners are forwards Jadin Martin, Tim Donohue and Cameron Rowat. Martin is the top returning scorer with 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists) and tallied the game-winning overtime goal against Austin (Minn.) in Game 2 of the Central Division playoffs.
Meet the Tauros
Forwards - Cameron Rowat, Jake McCann, Jadin Martin, Tim Donohue, Wesley Iverson, Hector Majul, Jake Johnson, Kirill Metlyuk, Krisztian Nagy, Tyler Shipstad, Jack Forbort, Scott Smoot, Blake Aguilar, Josh Colleaux.
Defensemen - Scott Dornbrock, Chance Creger, Johnny Walker, Brett Robinson, Zach Simpson, Jared Brandt, Max Pernhem, Jon Lizotte, Michael Bigelbach, Andrew Herlofsky.
Goaltenders - Brandon Wildung, Isaac Tjaden.
September - *18, vs. Corpus Christi (Texas), 10:30 a.m.; *19, vs. Port Huron (Mich.), 1:15 p.m.; *20, vs. Springfield (Ill.), 10 a.m.; *21, vs. Michigan, 12:30 p.m; 27, vs. Austin (Minn.), 7:35 p.m.; 28, vs. Austin, 7:35 p.m.
October - 4, at Wenatchee (Wash.), 9:05 p.m.; 5, at Wenatchee, 9:05 p.m.; 11, vs. Aberdeen (S.D.), 7:35 p.m.; 12, vs. Aberdeen, 7:35 p.m.; 18, at Minnesota Wilderness, 7:05 p.m.; 19, at Minnesota Wilderness, 7:05 p.m.; 25, at Bismarck, 7:15 p.m.; 26, vs. Bismarck, 8:05 p.m.
November - 1, at Brookings (S.D.), 7:15 p.m.; 2, at Brookings, 7:15 p.m.; 8, vs. Brookings, 7:35 p.m.; 9, vs. Brookings, 7:35 p.m.; 15, at Bismarck, 7:15 p.m.; 16, vs. Bismarck, 7:35 p.m.; 22, at Minnesota Magicians, 7:30 p.m.; 23, at Minnesota Magicians, 7:05 p.m.; 27, at Bismarck, 7:15 p.m.; 29, vs. Aberdeen, 7:35 p.m.; 30, vs. Aberdeen, 8:05 p.m.
December - 6, vs. Aberdeen, 8:05 p.m.; 7, at Aberdeen, 7:15 p.m.; 13, vs. Bismarck, 7:35 p.m.; 14, at Bismarck, 7:15 p.m.; 20, vs. Wenatchee, 7:35 p.m.; 21, vs. Wenatchee, 7:35 p.m.; 27, at Aberdeen, 7:15 p.m.; 28, vs. Aberdeen, 7:35 p.m.; 31, vs. Kenai River (Alaska), 7:35 p.m.
January - 1, vs. Kenai River, 7 p.m.; 10, at Austin, 7:05 p.m.; 11, at Austin, 7:05 p.m.
*Games played in Blaine, Minn., as part of 11th annual NAHL Showcase.
"We have four deep lines," Martin said. "Every line can score goals and bring something to the table."
Martin and Rowat (13 goals, 16 aassists) were two of Minot's top three scorers from last season. Five of the seven returners are forwards and the Tauros hope their experience leads to more offense this season. The Tauros averaged 2.52 goals per game during the regular season last year.
Defensemen Scott Dornbrock and Chance Creger are the only returners on a defense that surrendered 3.1 goals per contest. Despite the new-look defense, the Tauros like what they have.
"Our 'D' core is the best we've had," Martin said. "It's an exciting year defensivewise. We'll be defensively sound."
The Tauros are without goaltenders Tyler Parks and Ryan Ruck. Parks committed to play Division I hockey at St. Lawrence University in January and Ruck is playing in the United States Hockey League with the Des Moines Buccaneers.
Murray said Minneota, Minn., native Brandon Wildung will be the Tauros starting goaltender. Wildung played for the Flin Flon (Manitoba) Bombers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League last year, recording a 2.61 goals against average and a .926 save percentage in 19 regular season appearances.
"Brandon is a guy that has experience at the junior level," Murray said. "He comes highly recommended. He came to our main camp and looked exceptional. He hasn't missed a beat. He's been solid in his preseason games and he's a very focused individual."
Minot native Mason Morelli also won't be returning after earning a roster spot with the USHL's Fargo Force.
The Tauros won't have Matt Seidel in the lineup either. Minot aquired Seidel from Kenai River (Alaska) in June for four draft picks, but the Brown Bears leading scorer wants to play closer to home.
The Tauros quest for a second consecutive playoff berth intensified during the offseason after division realignments cut the Central Division from six teams to five. Coulee Region (Wis.) moved to the Midwest Region. Four teams from each division qualify for the postseason.
"Our division is going to be real exciting for 60 games," Murray said. "Our division is going to be very tight."
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics, the Minot Minotauros and the Minot State University men's club hockey team. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23-MDN.