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34 in 34: Granite City Lumberjacks

August 12, 2015
The 34 in 34 series will feature an in-depth look into all 34 teams in the NA3HL for the 2015-16 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 34 in 34 goes in-depth into each NA3HL team and will include interviews with all 34 head coaches in the NA3HL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the 2015-16 season, including taking a look at their potential roster and their strengths as a team for the upcoming season. It will also take a look back on the 2014-15 season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.  Best of all, 34 in 34 will provide the fans of the NA3HL with an inside look at their favorite team and what to expect.
 
Granite City Lumberjacks
2014-15 Record: 33-9-5, 71 pts. (2nd in the West Division)
2014-15 Playoffs: Won 2015 Silver Cup Championship
Head Coach: Brad Willner
2015-16 Division: West
 
2014-15 was a memorable season for the Granite City Lumberjacks. For much of the season, the Lumberjacks jockeyed with the North Iowa Bulls for reign of the NA3HL’s West Division, which is something that has become standard between the two clubs the last two seasons. The Lumberjacks faltered down the stretch, losing five of their last seven games, and lost both the West Division regular season and playoff crowns to the Bulls.  However, they did what they needed to do to be the sixth and final team to qualify for the Silver Cup via wildcard and ended up taking advantage of the opportunity.
 
Despite losing to the Bulls in the round-robin, the Lumberjacks would end up meeting the Bulls again in the Silver Cup Championship game and go on to defeat the Bulls, 3-2 to give Granite City and head coach Brad Willner their second Silver Cup in the last four years. “Obviously we were happy with the outcome this past season. I think what got us over the hump was a team-first concept. We didn’t have a lot of roster changes or in-season player movement, which really helped build some cohesiveness,” said Willner. “We came together at the right time and something clicked. I think Nationals was a little bittersweet because it isn’t often you win your last game and don’t advance, but we felt we were right there and would have been capable of winning in the next phase.”
 
Despite falling short in Nationals and seeing their rival Bulls win, Willner feels like the 2015-16 season is going to be a challenge from the start because of the fact that they are the defending Silver Cup Champions. “We only have six returning players from last season, so there are a lot of new pieces in place and a lot of guys without the experience of having gone through what we did in the playoffs last year,” said Willner. “We lost two really good goalies, so our first objective was to build from the net out. However, three of our six players returning are defensemen, so to start the season, hopefully our team defense will be strong and then we can go from there.”
 
As for returning players from the Silver Cup Championship team, forward Tanner Skaja highlights the list having recorded 48 points last season. Other returners include Will Mix, Tanner Mros, Spencer Nelson, Kevin Finley and Adam Marty. 
 
In 2015-16, the Lumberjacks will be in a five-team West Division, minus the Bulls, who have moved to the new Central Division. However, Willner says that does change the team’s goal or the how strong the competition may be. “I think the West will be just as tough to win because our opponents have worked very hard in the off-season to build successful teams. All have done a good job recruiting and we will have some tough out-of-division games, so we will be tested.”
 
Next up in the 34 in 34 series: Great Falls Americans
 
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