The Wilton High boys hockey team opens the 2017-18 season this week looking to continue the building process started last year under first-year head coach John Miserendino.

The focus, as was the case last season, will be on development and improvement — and laying the foundation for future success.

“Last year was step 1. This year is step 2. We’ve got a lot of young kids with talent coming in,” said Miserendino, noting that this year’s upperclassmen know that success will be measured not so much in wins as in progress.

“They understand this year is another year for development, another year of building the program,” said Miserendino. “This is just another step. It will take two or three years of developing players and welcoming in new players, and the returning players understand that. Everybody’s bought in.”

The Warriors are young, with 10 of the team’s 18 players being freshmen and sophomores. They have seven returning players who played significant minutes on last year’s 4-17 squad, with about half of last year’s key players either graduating, transferring to new schools, or opting to not play.

The team graduated two top-line scorers in Alex Biegen (all-FCIAC Division III) and Peter Koch, along with starting defenseman Liam Rance.

Perhaps more significantly, both goalies from last year, senior Chris Randolph and junior Alex Sywak (all-FCIAC Division III), have moved up to the prep school level this year.

Taking over duties between the pipes will be freshman Logan Motyka, while sophomore Nicholas Wert, who played defense last season, has switched to goaltending and will be the backup.

Fortunately, defense will be the biggest strength of the Warriors, as three of the team’s starting four return in senior captain Jack DiNanno, seniors Luke Terradista and sophomore standout Thomas McHugh, the team’s top defenseman.

Returning sophomore Kevin Fung will be looking for more playing time on the backline this season, as will two players moving up from the JV ranks — juniors Aidan Burke and Nicholas Furst. (Promising freshman defenseman Shane McCaghey is out for the season with an injury.)

Back on the first line will be senior center John Fung and sophomore forward Brandon Jonsson, who will be joined by new sophomore forward Tyler Everitt.

Miserendino said Everitt is one of the fastest skaters in the FCIAC and will make a big impact.

“He can fly. He’s good. You’re going to notice him right off the bat,” he said.

The second line returns two starters in junior captains Dean DiNanno and Connor Drake. Two new players, freshman Jackson Kelly and sophomore Lucas Thelen, are vying for the third spot.

Another talented freshman, Luke O’Neill, will open the season on the third line, but could work his way up to the second line at some point, said Miserendino. The third line also includes sophomore Nico Kouvaris, who has come in much improved after playing JV last season.

“They’re going to score more than we did last year but we’re going to give up a few more goals than last year,” said Miserendino, who feels the team’s best defense will be offense — and controlling the puck.

“We need to hold the puck,” he said.

In addition to the young talent coming in, Miserendino has been pleasantly surprised by the improvement made by the returning players. He is also encouraged by the number of players on the team for whom hockey is their main, or only, sport.

“This year’s kids coming in are hockey players that play hockey year-round. That’s what we’re aiming for.”

The coach said the leadership and work ethic of the team’s seniors, and its three captains, will go a long way to making the season a success.

“If things go badly they’re going to be able to battle through and if they go well they’re going to stay grounded and keep working,” he said.

“We’ll see how far we can take it. We’re going to try to win games and make it the best season we can for the seniors and upperclassmen,” he added.

Win or lose, the seniors know they are bringing Wilton hockey back— and Miserendino said the team’s future success will have been built on their foundation.

“They’re excited. Five years from now, when they’re in college, those kids can say, ‘We started that.’”