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Cougar boys bring depth, experience to upcoming season

Kasen Claymore, of the Aberdeen Cougars, left, goes after the puck with Watertown’s Austin McBride, right, during a game last season at the Odde Ice Center. Claymore is one of 13 seniors on this year's squad. The Cougars open their season Friday night hosting Oahe. Photo by John Davis taken 1/29/2021

The Aberdeen Cougars boys’ hockey squad takes the ice for its first regular-season game this Friday with plenty of reason for optimism for the upcoming campaign.

Jeremey Backous enters his second season as head coach of the Cougars. The combination of the coaching transition and a lack of depth led to challenges against the top teams in the state last year, but those factors do not return to the rink this season.

Aberdeen holds one of the largest rosters in both Cougar history and of the current teams in South Dakota, making depth one of the strongest aspects of the squad. In addition, the Cougars possess their largest senior class in several years with 13 players entering the final year in the program.

With a large team, no spot in a shift is guaranteed, leading to more competition and overall intensity in practice. One change Backous has made in his second year as head coach is adding more practice days, and his players’ commitment to the new schedule demonstrates, in return, their commitment to the culture Backous is trying to build.

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“They compete against each other in practice, and that’s where it really starts,” said Backous. “I expect and anticipate that we will have a much more competitive team than we have had in a number of years, due in large part to the work the kids have been doing.”

The team is led by senior captain Kasen Claymore, along with assistant captains and fellow seniors Mason Carrels and Jacob Grau.

The Cougars Bantam A team, the division directly below varsity, has won state titles in back-to-back seasons, and many of those players bring that championship experience and pedigree from the lower level to this year’s varsity roster.

The Bantam A team of the past two years defeated the likes of Sioux Falls, Brookings and Rushmore, the powerhouses of South Dakota high school hockey year in and year out. If the Cougars want to take their program to the next level, they will need to compete well against those teams and have players on their roster that have experience doing exactly that.

“I feel like with our team this year we have enough talent to compete and beat those top three teams,” Backous said. “It has been several years since Aberdeen has competed in the state tournament, and that is absolutely one of the goals for the coaching staff and the team.”

Tallying wins over any of the three premier teams would not only go a long way in earning a state tournament berth, but also give the team confidence for a deep run through the bracket.

The Cougars will face the Oahe Capitals at 8 p.m. Friday at the Odde Ice Center, before hosting Huron on Saturday night.

The Cougars did not play their normal rotation throughout the majority of the preseason as several players from the team played for their respective high school football teams. Aberdeen Roncalli and Aberdeen Central both made the playoffs, with Central reaching the semifinals. Backous is not only excited to have his players rested and ready for the regular season, he also is looking forward to seeing how their success on the football field will translate to a winning mentality on the ice.

“We have a strong core group of seniors that understand what it takes to compete on a daily basis, especially some of those football kids,” said Backous. “They just had a good season in the fall and understand all the work that went into that, and can hold leadership roles on the ice, whether they are a captain or not.”

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