The reigning South Eastern Manitoba Hockey League champion Ste. Anne Aces play their 2023-24 season opener tonight (7 p.m.) against the Northstars in Ile des Chenes.

Aces coach Kevin Lansard says his team is really excited to get the season started.

“We’ve been skating for a little bit and having a good time. Everybody has been getting their friends on the ice and kind of excited to see what we can do. The weather is changing and it’s nice to play a close game to start the season. We’re excited that everyone is going to be there.”

The Aces went on a historic playoff run in their first season in the SEMHL.

Ste. Anne finished in fourth place with a 10-6-0-2 record. The Aces eliminated the Red River Wild three games to one in the quarterfinals; swept the first place Portage Islanders in three straight in the semifinals and after losing the first three games of the best-of-seven final to Morden, rallied to win the next four.

“It’s going to be different,” noted Lansard who confirmed that forwards Cory Baldwin, Ken Selby and Joey Moggach along with captain Erik Leefe and goaltender Guy St. Vincent will not return this season. “Most of those guys were part of the core group. It’s even strange at practice, we’ve been skating a little bit and not hearing those guys voices in the room, from pushing each other to just laughing and stuff like that. It is interesting but it has created an opportunity and a door for other people get in those roles and it looks like everybody is excited to have the opportunity.”

“There was a lot of hype last year with the league and then going to game seven in the finals, it created a good buzz for senior hockey,” added Lansard. “We worked hard in the off season working the phones to see who was interested in playing. Our group is getting better and they’re pushing themselves. I think we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”

The SEMHL champions 2023-24 roster includes a number of new players - former Steinbach Pistons defenseman Darby Gula who played three years at Bemidji State University; Winnipeg’s Jordan DePape spent the past four season with the University of Manitoba Bisons; forward Cody Fowlie of Airdrie who played three years in Europe before joining the Grenfell Spitfires of the Qu’Appelle Valley Highway Hockey League last season; Oakbank’s Matt Bailey spent four years with the University of Alaska-Anchorage before playing a couple of seasons in the AHL and in Europe and defenseman Brett Lernout of Winnipeg who was selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the third round of the 2014 NHL Draft.

Ste. Anne won four consecutive Carillon Senior Hockey League championships before the lights went out on the CSHL.

Now the Aces are looking forward to the challenge of winning back-to-back SEMHL titles.

“We know that we’re going to get everybody’s best night-in and night-out, so I think it helps push us to be better,” Lansard said. “We’ve done that in the past and I don’t see anything different happening.”