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48 in 24 Series: Granite City Lumberjacks

August 17, 2016
The 48 in 24 series will feature an in-depth look into all 48 teams in the NA3HL for the 2016-17 season, with new teams being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 48 in 24 goes in-depth into each NA3HL team and will include interviews with all 48 head coaches in the NA3HL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the 2016-17 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 2015-16 season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.  Best of all, 48 in 24 will provide the fans of the NA3HL with an inside look at their favorite team and what to expect.
Granite City Lumberjacks
2015-16 Record: 33-11-3, 69 pts. (1st in the West Division)
2015-16 Playoffs: Lost to the Twin City Steel in the West Finals, 2 games to 0
Head Coach: Brad Willner 
2016-17 Division: West
The Granite City Lumberjacks of Sauk Rapids, Minnesota started in the NA3HL in the 2011-12 season. They finished their fifth season by making it all the way to the West Division finals, but fell a bit short of the Silver Cup Championship. Head Coach Brad Willner hopes to build off of that momentum by adding another championship to the Lumberjacks history next year. The Lumberjacks are two-time Silver Cup Champions in 2012 and 2015.
“I was happy with last season as a whole,” Willner said. “Winning the West Division during the regular season was great, but our team was disappointed about our finish.  I feel we peaked too early and couldn't find that chemistry during playoffs.  It’s hard as a coach, but we learn from it and will try to achieve more this year.” 
Willner, who acts as head coach and general manager of the team, is entering his 8th season with the Lumberjacks and has won three league championships and was named the NA3HL General Manager of the Year in 2012.
Before joining the Lumberjacks, he spent four seasons coaching with the Alexandria Blizzard of the NAHL and five seasons coaching with St. Cloud State University. 
Before coaching, Willner had a rich playing history as well. He played for Lake Superior State University in the CCHA, the Raleigh Ice Caps in the ECHL, the Albany River Rats in the AHL, and the New Jersey Devils in the NHL. He’s used this extensive history to bring a different spin to coaching in the NA3HL.
“I feel the lessons I learned from playing for great coaches has helped me the most,” Willner said.  “I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that there isn't one way to do things correctly.  As a coach, I have had to adapt to my team each year and find out what I can do to make them gel together and become the best team by years end.”
The Lumberjacks have a big history to live up to with two Silver Cup Championships in 2012 and 2015. Willner likens that success with the team’s returning players and their experience.
“I think championship teams start with great leadership from our veteran players,” Willner said.  “The discipline that they instill on the rest of the team will create the atmosphere for winning.  Players play hard and want to give their all for the guy next to them.  If we get great leadership, it makes our jobs as coaches easier and success follows.”
The Lumberjacks saw six college commitments this summer, four active players, and two alumni. Forward Adam Marty, and defenseman Typer Mros, committed to Bethel University in Minnesota. Forward Tommy Hall committed to Hamline University in Minnesota. Defenseman Kevin Finley committed to Midland University in Nebraska. Alumni player Dakoda Menslage has committed to Wentworth Institute of Technology, and alumni player Christian Mohs has committed to Miami University.
“We have a great reputation of preparing our players for college and college coaches know that,” Willner said. “They look at our players because they know what they will get and that our players will be ready for the grind of college hockey.”
Next up in the 48 in 24 series: Great Falls Americans
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