The Northland Pines boys hockey team will be returning 11 letterwinners for the 2021-’22 season, but the Eagles will be considered a very young team.

“We will be learning as the year goes on,” said Pines coach David Cox. “We have had a great run for about 15 years and we are in a transition this season.”

The Eagles, who were 11-6 overall last year, will open their schedule next Tuesday, Nov. 23, with a nonconference game against D.C. Everest. The puck will drop at the Dome at 7 p.m.

“We are learning as we go with nine new faces in the lineup. We are just teaching and trying to get a majority of the team acclimated to high school hockey. Many are experiencing their first full week of practice every day and learning systems hockey that they have never experienced before,” said Cox.

Andrew Hartwig, Roen McGee and Matthew Szafranski will be the key returning players with a solid but not deep or seasoned core around them.

“We really like the kids and how hard they are working after the first week of practice. We are truly going to be a work in progress as we develop our individual and team skills as the season unfolds. We will experience a lot of education on the fly under fire during games,” said Cox.

Cox said the coaches, including Larry Snedden Jr., and Nic Weight, will be looking for 5-minute stretches of consistent hockey and build from there.

“We are all looking forward to the challenge as we watch this group progress and play. Seniors Drew Christenson and Patrick Roth, along with fellow juniors Logan Kramsvogel and Tyler Glauner, are going to be leaned on as well early on for leadership and continuity throughout the lineup,” said Cox.

Cox said the biggest challenge will be consistency and overall experience in critical times during a game.

“We will have a freshman goaltender and one returning defenseman from last season, so team defense will be a key. We will be young, but as I said before we are up for the challenge and really looking forward to what this group can accomplish come February after a season of growth,” said Cox.

Cox said the Great Northern Conference will look similar to last season, with Rhinelander returning a solid nucleus of talent from the net out.

“They were really close to a state berth last season and Coach Laggis’ players are hungry. Their football, soccer, and cross-country teams all were led by hockey players and had successful runs this fall as success breeds success,” said Cox. The Eagles will play at Rhinelander in the first GNC game of the season Thursday, Dec. 2.

Cox also sees Mosinee, Lakeland and Waupaca as contenders.

“Mosinee will have a boatload of offense with their returning core up front and I see Lakeland with the deepest team returning top to bottom. They lost some players, but they were loaded last season with some great youngsters that contributed down the stretch and for years to come. Waupaca is a dark horse in the mix. They are well coached and were coming on at the end of last season. After that Medford, Pines, Tomahawk and Antigo will all be trying to hang with those four in games as long as they can and pull an upset as we all rebuild and improve. It will be another great year in the GNC,” said Cox.