Oliver David really likes the foundation the Dubuque Fighting Saints will take into the United States Hockey League season.
The key will be building upon it.
The Saints open regular-season play against Muskegon at 9 a.m. today at the USHL Fall Classic in suburban Pittsburgh. Dubuque went 4-0 in the preseason, including a pair of two-game sweeps of Eastern Conference rivals Cedar Rapids and Green Bay.
“We had a nice preseason that showed some signs of some good potential in putting together a consistently performing team,” said David, who enters his third season as the head coach with two new assistant coaches, Evan Dixon and Justin Hale. “Our jobs will be to continue to help them along. We’re really just starting.
“It’s just like the school year. We have a good class of kids, and we have to make sure they all learn and get the best grade they can by the end of the year.”
The Saints return 10 players with extensive USHL experience, including eight who spent the bulk of last season in Dubuque. A year ago, the Saints finished above .500, qualified for the Clark Cup Playoffs and won a playoff series — all for the ninth consecutive season.
“We have a lot of the elements you need for a successful hockey team,” returning veteran Dylan Jackson said. “We have creativity, skill guys, guys who work hard … and we already have a lot of chemistry. It’s going to be exciting to see how it’s going to end up.”
Here is a look at the opening night roster:
Erik Portillo — The 6-foot-6, 209-pound native of Goteborg, Sweden, led his country’s J20 SuperElit League in goals against average (1.99) and save percentage (.931) last season while with the Frolunda Indians. Portillo, 19, is committed to the University of Michigan, and the Buffalo Sabres selected him in the third round of this summer’s NHL Draft.
Aidan McCarthy — The 6-foot, 161-pound 18-year-old from Novi, Mich., posted the top goals against average (1.22) and top save percentage (.949) in the Tier I EHL while playing for the Victory Honda U18 team.
Braden Doyle — A Boston University recruit who was selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the sixth round of this summer’s NHL Draft, Doyle tallied five goals and 29 points in 28 games for Lawrence Academy. The 6-foot, 168-pound 18-year-old from Lynnfield, Mass., had one assist in five games for the Saints last season.
Michael Feenstra — The 18-year-old from Grand Haven, Mich., tallied two goals, six points and 12 penalty minutes in 38 games for Dubuque last season. The 6-3, 192-pounder has already committed to Michigan State.
Aidan Fulp — Back for his third full season in Dubuque, the 6-3, 205-pound 19-year-old from Indianapolis has three goals and 18 points in 87 career games. He has committed to Western Michigan University.
Wyatt Kaiser — The 5-11, 170-pound 17-year-old from Ham Lake, Minn., will play a before-and-after season in Dubuque, so he can play for his highly touted Andover High School program. A Minnesota-Duluth recruit, he tallied nine goals and 29 points in 25 games for Andover last season. He represented USA Hockey at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup this summer.
Ian Pierce — A 5-11, 185-pound 18-year-old from New York, he registered three goals and 19 points in 26 prep school games for the Kent School last season. A Dartmouth commit, he has played four games for the Saints in each of the past two seasons.
Luke Robinson — Dubuque acquired the 6-3, 205-pound 19-year-old from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the NAHL last season, and he tallied three assists in 26 games as a shutdown defenseman. The Brentwood, Tenn., native had seven assists in 36 games in the NAHL last season.
Ben Schultheis — The 6-3, 191-pound native from Mount Juliet, Tenn., played 22 games for the Green Bay Gamblers last season and tallied three assists and four penalty minutes before finishing the season with the Minnesota Magicians of the North American Hockey League. The 19-year-old tallied three goals, 13 points and 58 penalty minutes in 27 NAHL games.
Kaelan Taylor — A year ago, the 6-2, 185-pound native of Oceanside, Calif., logged four goals, 11 points and 30 penalty minutes while playing all 62 games for the Saints. The 20-year-old is committed to Clarkson University for next season.
Ryan Beck — A 5-9, 185-pound 17-year-old from Linden, Mich., he tallied 21 goals and 40 points last season with the Belle Tire U16 and U18 teams. He also played nine games in Dubuque but did not register a point. He is committed to the University of Denver.
Mark Cheremeta — The 5-10, 165-pound 20-year-old from Parkland, Fla., tallied three assists in 29 games for Boston University last season and decided to return to the USHL for a year of experience. He plans to return to the Terriers for his sophomore season next fall.
Jack Conroy — A 6-1, 181-pound 19-year-old from Chicago, he posted nine goals, 20 points and 32 penalty minutes in 53 games split between Kenai River and Odessa of the NAHL. He also played two games for Madison of the USHL.
Robert Cronin — The 5-10, 181-pound 19-year-old from Plymouth, Mass., recorded 19 goals and 54 points in 31 games for the Gunnery Prep last season. He is committed to the University of New Hampshire.
Riese Gaber — The 5-8, 154-pound 19-year-old from Gilbert Plains, Manitoba, posted 22 goals, 50 points and 54 penalty minutes in 61 games for the Saints a year ago. The Saints’ top returning scorer will play at the University of North Dakota next fall.
Jimmy Glynn — A 5-10, 172-pound 19-year-old from Lemont, Ill., he accumulated nine goals, 33 points and 24 penalty minutes in 53 games for the Jamestown Rebels of the NAHL. The Rebels are coached by former Saints associate head coach Joe Coombs.
Stephen Halliday — The 6-3, 220-pound 17-year-old from Glenwood, Md., posted 10 goals, 34 points and 24 penalty minutes with Central Illinois last season before the Saints took him in the Flying Aces dispersal draft. The University of North Dakota recruit is projected to be a potential first round NHL Draft pick next summer.
Dylan Jackson — The 5-9, 157-pound 18-year-old from Oakville, Ontario, tallied 13 goals, 44 points and 10 penalty minutes in 62 games as a rookie for Dubuque last season. He will join his twin brother, Ty, at Northeastern University next season. He is the Saints’ second-leading returning scorer.
Ty Jackson — The 5-7, 148-pound 18-year-old from Oakville, Ontario, registered 15 goals, 40 points and 26 penalty minutes in 62 regular-season games for the Saints last season. Like his brother, he played in every regular-season game for Dubuque last season. He is the Saints’ third-leading returning scorer.
Matthew Kopperud — A 5-10, 170-pound 20-year-old from Denver, he logged 27 goals, 51 points and 40 penalty minutes in 49 games for the Merritt Centennials of the British Columbia Jr. Hockey League. He is committed to Arizona State.
Thomas Middleton — The 5-11, 176-pound 19-year-old from Midland, Mich., tallied nine goals, 24 points and 30 penalty minutes in 53 games for the Janesville Jets of the NAHL last season.
Reggie Millette — The 5-11, 181-pound 19-year-old from Jacksonville, Fla., contributed four goals, 12 points and 145 penalty minutes in 52 games for the Austin Bruins of the NAHL last season.
Riley Stuart — The 6-3, 179-pound 17-year-old from Phoenix recently committed to Arizona State University. He had 12 goals and 29 points in 29 games for the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes last season.
Antonio Venuto — A 6-3, 201-pound 19-year-old from Whitmore Lake, Mich., he recorded 15 goals, 28 points and 59 penalty minutes in 53 games for the Jamestown Rebels of the NAHL last season.