EAU CLAIRE (WEAU) - It's a memory both agonizing and at the same time inspiring for the Eau Claire Memorial boys hockey team.
A loss in last year's WIAA state semifinals was deja vu, as the Old Abes fell to Wausau West for the second straight year on the doorstep of a championship. At the same time, the loss also motivates the team's players to work harder, so they do not become the ones that fail to make the trip to Madison.
"It pushed us pretty hard this summer," said senior forward Hayden Bowe. "Two years in a row, it's pushed us to work harder."
A third-straight trip to the state tournament is anything but automatic for the Old Abes. Heading into the 2011-2012 season, Eau Claire Memorial is without six players from last year's team, including last year's Mr. Hockey, goaltender Saxton Soley. Luckily for head coach Mike Schwengler, experience is not in short supply.
""Fortunately, our top two lines are the same as they were last year," Schwengler said. "We always try to keep our cupboard stocked."
As the Old Abes look to reload, Big Rivers rival Eau Claire North is getting a fresh start with first-year head coach Jordan Fish. He inherits a program that can only go up. The Huskies did not win a game last year, and have only three seniors and eight returning players back this season.
However, getting the chance to run a program was an opportunity Fish said he couldn't wait to have.
You know, ever since I've been playing and growing up, it was one of those things [that] I wanted to coach," Fish said. "When I was offered, I jumped at it. Getting to know the kids has been excellent."
And while Fish works on getting his team into game shape, his players are eager to put last season behind them.
After going 0-24 last year, you know, it's a disappointing season, and we want to come back and prove that North's a strong hockey program, and we can build up in the future," said Huskies senior forward Seth Suckow.