TRAVERSE CITY — There’s not much to improve on when you’re coming off a 47-0-1 season.
Still, the Traverse City Hounds are hoping for just that.
The Hounds — who moved from Hartland after winning the Midwest Junior Hockey League’s inaugural Veteran’s Memorial Cup with that dominant 47-0-1 regular season — kick off their season tonight on the road against the Berkley Bruins.
“I hope it’s the same this year — maybe even better,” forward Clayton Dowlan joked. “We can get rid of that ‘1.’”
Dowlan, who played for Traverse City West his freshman year before playing with the Lansing Senators Midget AAA since, returns to play in Traverse City. He says the entire team is eagerly awaiting tonight’s 7 p.m. season debut that starts a three-game weekend series with the Bruins.
“We’ve been just waiting for the day,” said Dowlan, the youngest player on the team at age 16.
“Our guys are chomping at the bit,” Hounds owner and head coach Scott Gardiner said. “A lot of other teams have played an exhibition game or two. We have not, by design. Now our guys are really hungry and ready to go.”
The Hounds boast a bevy of local players — including Dowlan, Tyler Thirlby, Cam Fisher, Brady Brantley, John Posler, Kenny Simmons and Jake Gillis from Traverse City and Kalkaska’s Scott Luca and Petoskey’s Kevin Hansen.
“Returning guys always play a big role,” Gardiner said. “Cam Fisher is going to play a big role, Tyler Thirlby, Scott Luca, Matt Passino, Jordan Ruterbusch. It’s very important to have these guys in the lineup, because they understand our systems and everything we do so they can help the other players. Jake Gillis is going to be a big-time player for us. I really see him being a force in our league.”
Brantley, a defenseman who just finished his Traverse City Central career last season, was a late addition.
“He just signed (Wednesday) and will be on the road with us this weekend,” Gardiner said. “He hasn’t played since the last game the Trojans had last year. He got a couple practices in this week, and I’d like to get him in the lineup this weekend and see how he does.”
Posler is one of three goalies on the team, joining Colton Lewicki and the Czech Republic’s David Krejcik.
Forwards Garrison Sanipass (6-5, 230) and Josh Smith (6-5, 240) give the team size up front.
“The two guys we picked up from Little Caesars, Garrison Sanipass and Josh Smith, both are really big bodies,” Gardiner said. “They should give us a physical presence as well as some skill. These guys can play.
“Last year, we were extremely high scoring, but I didn’t feel we had enough grit and size and physical presence when we played some of the older teams. This year, I think we do. Our team is a different make up this year.”
Berkley had difficulties winning last year, posting a 5-41-2 record.
“Last year, they were the Great Lakes Lightning, and they struggled,” Gardiner said. “But this year, looking at their roster, they’re a completely different team. We’re expecting the whole league to have much more parity this year. That’s what happens with new leagues. You work it out, and the disparity from the top and bottom closes up.”
The Hounds open the home portion of their schedule Oct. 11-13 at Centre ICE against the Alpena Street Cats. Tickets are $5 and available at the door.