By Jim den Hollander
Sauk Hockey Editor
Coming of the toughest season in team history, Dells Ducks junior hockey team head coach Jeff Worlton promises to give the Sauk County area something to cheer for this time around.
Entering the season with a young club that included just one returner, Worlton warned the going could be tough, in particularly early on last season. However, a solid month of December had he team at .500 for the first and only time heading into the Christmas break.
A tough schedule after the break saw the team finish eighth overall in the United States Premier Hockey League Midwest-West division and they were eliminated in two games by the Division champion Minnesota Moose who went on to the League Championship semi-finals.
With a team made up of about half returners – including several with more than a single season of junior eligibility remaining – and half newcomers, Worlton is excited and has set the bar high for the Lake Delton junior team this season.
“Our expectations as a team are a lot higher,” said Worlton on the eve of the first day of camp, Aug. 27. “We have a good core group of returners which we didn’t have last year. So, this year our expectations are high and we’re excited. It’s a long way to go to the end of the road, but we’re excited.”
A weird schedule that will see the Ducks playing nine of 11 games before its first Showcase event in Chicago in October, on home ice. To take advantage of playing in friendly surroundings, it will be important for the Ducks to be well prepared by the time they open the season Sept. 14 against the Minnesota Mullets.
“It’s key that we have a good training camp,” said the coach. We have a two-week training camp, so it’s good we have that. We want to hit the ground running this year and get off to a good start. With our returners and what we’ve added, we feel like we’re going to be able to hit the road running and make some hay at the start of the year. We’ll see what we can do, but the first part of the year being at home, it’s really big for us to get it going.”
Coach Worlton and Associate Coach Jack Winger had a pattern of using video footage to prepare for teams last season. Of course, that option is not available for the opening series of the season against the Mullets.
“Yeah, you just try to pull up your notes from last year, but obviously they have new players from last year too, they’ve changed. So, you don’t do a lot of background work because you can’t, but I think a good part of starting out fast is having a good training camp and being in better shape than the team you’re playing against. That’s our goal, why we’re having a two-week training came, so we can be in better shape.”
The Ducks ranked eighth in the division not only in points, but goals scored, it’s 109 markers an average of just 2.48 per game. The Ducks allowed 173 which ranked it a sixth best in the division, but an average of 3.93 is not great. While it was a better number than some teams in front of it, the Ducks struggled to find consistency on the blue line and in goal last season.
Scoring more and allowing less is certainly a goal, but there is a little more to it as well, said Worlton.
“I think it’s a combination of everything you know. We need to score more goals and allow less goals. We must be better in all aspects of the game. We have to be better in all zones and everything that we do this year.”
Discipline was an issue at times – the Ducks racked up a pretty high number of penalties, but that has always been a part of the Ducks identity to play a physical style and Worlton said he is less concerned with that.
“You can’t ever really complain because we were competing,” said the coach. “Sometimes did we lose discipline? Sure, but we’re still competing, their hearts were in the right place. You take the good and the bad when you’re competing, right?”
Having a substantial number of returners gives the coach a bit of a jump this time around, especially when comparing it to last year when he began the campaign with few players with previous junior experience.
“We’re going to start with just conditioning, but we are going to work early on x’s and o’s and get into the systems. With so many returning players this year, it should just be a refresher for them,” said the coach adding there are a few changes in systems, “But overall, it should just be about refreshing. Going at it off ice first and then getting on ice and doing it.”
The Ducks did some team bonding and a lot of dryland type drills through the first week and were scheduled to hit the new ice at the Poppy Waterman Ice Arena Monday (Sept. 3) to begin working toward the start of the regular season.
After games against the Mullets, Sept. 14-15, the Ducks will return to the Poppy to face the defending champion Minnesota Moose the following weekend, then travel to play the Kasson Vipers, a new team in Minnesota, near Rochester.
The Ducks will return home for a three-game weekend Oct. 5-7 before traveling to the Chicago area for its first Showcase event of the season Oct. 11-13. After that, the Ducks will play another six straight at the Poppy in a weird season that will see them wrap all but three of its home games before the Christmas Break.
Tickets for Ducks games will go for the same cost this season — $6 for Adults an $5 for Seniors while Students and Children get in for free. There are season ticket options as well and almost every home game will have a theme this season, including its second game against the Mullets when the team will honor its billets.