Coach Chad Hoidal is trying to piece together Mount Baker's golf team after losing state golfers Shane Harkness, Addison King, Jon Schemstad and Kenny Wilson to graduation.
Senior Dillon Gorum returns, and Hoidal has several young, talented, but unproven players to work with. One gaping hole exists on the Mountaineers' roster, and that belongs to two-time senior state qualifier Kristjan Toivola.
Where is Toivola these first two weeks of the season?
He's been doing his best Happy Gilmore impression, splitting time on the ice with Bellingham's junior league hockey team, the Bellingham Blazers, and working on his golf game in his spare time.
Hoidal said high school athletic rules prevent Toivola from joining the golf team until his hockey season is over. And the Blazers season won't end until the first week in April after the club won the NORPAC's Cascade Cup Sunday, March 17. The win sends Bellingham to the national tournament, which will be held April 4-8, in Rochester, Minn.
"It's been great to see, where we are started with 12 guys on the roster to winning the league championship," Toivola said in a phone interview. "It was pretty amazing. This is my first year of junior league hockey, and I wasn't sure what to expect. It's been one of the best experiences of my life."
Golf and hockey are an interesting clash of sporting styles. Golf is regarded as a gentleman's game, while there's nothing friendly about what transpires during a hockey game.
"My dad played hockey when I was a little kid, and I always liked to go," Toivola said. "I'd always go hit balls in my yard, and when high school came around, I started playing for the (golf) team. It was free golf, and I really, really liked it, so I started playing every single day on the weekends."
Once Toivola, who plays forward and recorded 29 regular-season points (13 goals, 16 assists) and three postseason points (two goals, one assist), returns to the golf course, he'll be trying to lead another team with postseason aspirations.
"He hasn't been out here even though he is a captain," Hoidal said in a phone interview.
That's saying a lot, but Toivola has the chance to do something no other Mount Baker golfer has done in school history. He could become Mount Baker's first three-time state golf participant.
Hoidal, who admitted Toivola is a tremendous athlete, will be counting on his standout senior to play a larger role this season.
Toivola had several teammates who could pick up his slack last year if he struggled and vice versa. He's not expected to have as much help this spring from his inexperienced teammates.
"I think we really need him to score a lot more than in the past," Hoidal said. "Last week it showed we don't have the depth that we've had in years past."
Toivola has a great swing off the tee and plays his irons well. Hoidal would like to see his senior's short game improve. Though Toivola has been to state twice, he hasn't made the cut for the final day, and stronger green play may help Toivola take that next step.
Toivola said, without a doubt, his goal is to make the state tournament cut and play day two.
"It's always a little tough once you make it there," Toivola said. "You really have to step up and be a lot more careful and focus."
The Class 2A State Tournament last year was played at the Classic Course in Spanaway, a tree-heavy course with little room for error. This year's Class 1A State Tournament will be at Lake Spanaway - a course resembling Mount Baker's North Bellingham home course.
Toivola doesn't view his late start to the season as an obstacle.
He said a lot of the leg muscles used in hockey are utilized in his golf stroke. While the mechanics of a golf swing are far different than a swinging a hockey stick, Toivola said whether he has a stick or a club in his hand, he's working his coordination.
"It's always a little tough," said Toivola of transitioning from hockey to golf, "but after a few weeks it comes pretty natural."
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.