Oakes looking forward to junior year with RWD hockey squad

By Jim den Hollander



Last spring, RWD sophomore goaltender Cooper Oakes helped his high school team get to within a goal of the WIAA Sectional semi-finals.

A three-sport athlete (baseball and now soccer along with ice hockey), ‘Coop’ still finds time over the summer months to attend hockey camps or tryouts while also swinging a bat.

Of course, it was more difficult to find open ice over the crazy summer of 2020, but Oakes was invited to the main camp of the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League, the only Tier 1 league in the USA.

The all-Midwest based league has the top Under 20 players in the nation and being on the radar of that league is a plum for any hockey player. The players who make up the 16 USHL teams almost all sign on to play at Division 1 NCAA schools and an increasing number each season are selected in the NHL Entry Draft before setting foot on a campus.

The experience was a good one for the young goaltender who says he is looking forward to joining his teammates for a deeper push in the WIAA 2021 post season.

While playing as a member of the RAHS varsity soccer team, Oakes and several of his hockey teammates gather at the Lake Delton Ice Arena on Monday and Tuesday nights to sharpen their skills and shake off the summer rust under the guidance of Dells Ducks Assistant Coach Anthony Rohde.

A schedule has yet to be introduced for the 2020-21 varsity hockey season, but Head Coach Neil Mattson, unable to attend the early ‘Captains’ practices will be looking to challenge for the Badger North Conference crown, make some noise in the playoffs and the Coach will achieve a personal goal, hopefully early in the season as he needs three wins to hit the 300-win plateau.


Tough tests out of the gate for young Ducks

By Jim den Hollander



A young Dells Ducks team opened the 2020-21 USPHL Premier League regular season with a tough test this past weekend.

For many, the grade would have to be failing as the Ducks were outscored 20-1 (11-0 and 9-1) in a pair of contests against the Chicago Cougars, but for a team loaded with players entering their first junior hockey game, a case could be made for a grade of D or even C.

Despite a barrage of goals that sent their goals against averages soaring, the Ducks’ goaltenders showed flashes of brilliance, in particular Anthony Falzone who came on in relief Friday night and then turned in a shutout first period Saturday despite facing in excess of 30 shots.

As a result, a goal from Jayden Tkaczuk had the Ducks and their fans giddy with excitement as the team carried a 1-0 cushion into the second period Saturday night. Quite a change from the previous night when the team trailed 5-0 after a period.

Isaac Hyde turned in a solid effort Friday as well despite the lopsided score and Brendan Williamson took a turn in the second half Saturday night. All three faced a barrage of Cougars’ shots with the goalie removals an act of mercy in both contests.

Among the positives: The Ducks stood up to the test physically and despite the score, never appeared to lose their fight. While hemmed into their own end for minutes at a time, the players did seem to keep their composure for the most part.

It will be interesting to see how the Ducks measure up against their Cougars when they make the return visit to Leafs Center in West Dundee in January.

Next – Ducks vs. Steele County Blades

The Ducks hope to take the necessary lessons from the beatings this past weekend as they move into a Midwest-West Division match up with the Steele County Blades at the Lake Delton Ice Arena this weekend.

The Blades have yet to open their season and will pay a visit to the Minnesota Mullets at Augsburg University Ice Arena on Wednesday afternoon. Like the Ducks, the Blades will have several new players this season and they finished close in the standings last season – the Blades seventh and the Ducks eighth, so this promises to be much tighter contest.

Game time on Friday and Saturday will once again be 7 p.m. Admission remains the same as the opening weekend — $6 for Adults and $3 for Seniors, children, students and Military/Vets. Local youth hockey players are always admitted free when sporting team colors.

Tough weekend for Ducks on ice but plenty to cheer for

While the young Dells Ducks endured a steep learning curve in its opening pair of home games this past weekend, Ducks fans celebrated seeing some old familiar faces, musical entertainment and even a marriage proposal.

Many fans in attendance Friday and Saturday came to revisit old times with nine seasons worth of alumni players including most of the fan favorites from the past decade who played in a pair of fun but up-tempo scrimmages on both Friday and Saturday.

Among those that stood out in the alumni matches, original team member Kristian Casella turned in goals in both contests, wrapping up a trio in the Saturday contest; Ian Wood and Layne Martin who combined on a number of beauties on the weekend and Brett Johnson who, like Wood played professionally this past season. Anthony Rohde, current Assistant Coach of the Ducks showed his speed and ability to find room on the ice. Kevin Salinas, Adam Stanton and Johnny Recek played Saturday only with the ‘White’ squad and all three counted goals.

Including in Saturday’s Game were:

Team White – Brian Holappa (2011-12 Ducks); Tyler Jacobson (2012-13); Chuck Marcoe (2012-13); Kristian Casella (2011-12); John Recek (2011-12); Kevin Salinas (2012-13); Brett Johnson (2012-13, 2013-14); Cory Schwarz (2016-17); Anthony Rohde (2011-12); Alex Gunnar (2011-12); Adam Stanton (2014-15) and Goaltender Jared Young (2014-15, 2015-16).

Team Black – Connell Totten (2012-13); Johnny Schwarz (2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14); Colin Cross (2013-14, 2014-15); Jake (‘Dale’) Stima (2012-13; 2013-14); Joey Bower (2012-13, 2013-14); Layne Martin (2012-13, 1013-14); Brady Hefner (2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15); Danny Roe (2013-14); Bradley Hefner (2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15) and Ian Wood (2013-14, 2014-15). The goaltending duties were shared by Robbie Meadows (2012-13, 2013-14) and Trace Wiles, a before/after player with the current Ducks who will play for RWD this winter. Also, guest player Tim Sanapolo who the Ducks ran into a few times at USA Hockey Nationals when he played for the North Iowa Bulls.

Honorary Coaches Kaden (left) and Kamron Morris are surrounded by members of the two Dells Ducks alumni teams following their game Saturday afternoon at the Lake Delton Ice Arena.

On Friday, the players showed their compete level was still high, refusing to accept a tie at the end and instead engaging in three-on-three overtime and a shootout before declaring a winner.

Honorary Coaches for Friday’s game were Ducks’ superfans Bill Pettit and Chris Pelisek. On Saturday the Morris brothers, Kaden and Kamron took a spot behind the bench.

Colin Cross, now a recording artist in Nashville entertained his teammates and Ducks fans at a well-attended get together at Bobber’s Island Grill, a sponsor for both the Lake Delton Ice Arena and the Dells Ducks.

On Saturday night, representatives from the Morris family from Bobber’s (Max Morris, JT Morris and Jeff Morris) dropped a ceremonial opening faceoff at the Lake Delton Ice Arena and with the crowd still buzzing with the Ducks up 1-0 on a tough Chicago Cougars team, John Recek capped a perfect weekend as a fake shootout competition was set up, giving him a chance to propose to his girlfriend at center ice.

Of course, she said Yes!

Here we go — Ducks opener tonight

The Dells Ducks will kick off its 10th season of play in a big way this weekend at the Lake Delton Ice Arena.

Ducks fans will get a chance to reminisce about the team’s past triumphs while seeing a Dells Ducks 2.0 rebirth under the leadership of the team’s original coach.

Many of the team’s greatest players will be in town for the weekend with a few events planned, [including alumni contests preceding the 2020-21 team’s first two regular season contests.

The new Ducks will open the season with a pair of home games against the Chicago Cougars and the opponent couldn’t be better for a night like this.

Behind the bench for the Ducks will be the original Head Coach, Shaun Falzone – now back as the team’s Head Coach/General Manager and Co-Owner. Beside him will be another original – Anthony Rohde, a member of the original Dells Ducks (2011-12) crew and now the team’s Assistant Coach.  Brian Guevara, the team’s Goaltending Coach is also expected to be in town for the opening matches.

On the opposite bench, the Chicago Cougars will have Josh Dallman as its Head Coach. Dallman of course, was the Ducks Head Coach for the 2019-20 season and scouted for the team before that. Along with Dallman will be Johnny Schwarz, another of the Dells Ducks original team members. Schwarz went on to play 125 games over three seasons with the Ducks.

Game time for both contests will once again be 7 p.m.

On both Friday and Saturday, a pair of Alumni teams will hit the ice for some fun contests starting at 5 p.m. Many of the fans favorites from the past decade will be in town for these contests. While most of our players have found success at the College level and beyond in the business world, there are a pair of players that have garnered legit ‘celebrity’ status heading into the weekend.

Colin Cross, 26, was one of the best penalty killers and defensive players through the first 10 seasons, playing for the Ducks in both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. Cross pretty much wrapped up his hockey career with the Ducks and has taken the next step in his life, as a recording artist living in the capital of County Western music, Nashville, Tennessee. ‘Crosser’ is scheduled to perform after the Ducks-Cougars first game on Friday night just down Progressive Drive at Bobber’s. Cross, who will also perform the national anthem for the 7 p.m. game, hits the stage at Bobbers at 10 p.m.

Also Alex Radcliffe will be playing. Radcliffe, a member of the 2015-16 National Championship team, is also part of the crew on the reality television show Below Deck Mediterranean.

The games will include five former team captains: Kevin Salinas (Saturday); Tyler Jacobson; Jake Stima; Ian Wood and Chris Vella.


Team 1: Forwards – Brian Holappa; Cory Schwarz; Tyler Forest; Kristian Casella; Anthony Rohde; John Recek; Matt Raimondi; Chris Vella; Kevin Salinas.

Defense – Alex Radcliffe; Dylan Parshall; Alex Gunnar; Josh Krueger (only Wisconsin Dells resident to play for the Ducks, actually played a forward with the junior team).

Goaltenders – Dan O’Leary

Team 2: Forwards – Ian Wood; Joey Bower; Colin Cross; Brady Hefner; Layne Martin; Brett Johnson.

Defense – Johnny Schwarz; Tyler Jacobson; Chuck Marcoe; Jake Stima; Bradley Hefner; Connell Totten; Danny Roe and Mike Sullivan.

Goaltenders – Robbie Meadows and Jared Young.

Bush Cup Champions 2016

Along with the two games and the music at Bobber’s there is a plan in the works for a golf outing, likely on Saturday.

Honorary Coaches for the Friday night game will be Ducks’ superfans Chris Pelisek and Bill Pettit. Coaches for the second game Kaden and Kamron Morris will be behind the bench.

Another throwback will see the team’ original play-by-play guy, Matt Panure stepping back behind the microphone.

In keeping with the way the world is operating now, the Ducks will ask fans to wear masks and practice social distancing as much as possible. A couple masks featuring the new Dells Ducks logo ill be available for sale at the game as well.


Admission is $6 for Adults and $3 for seniors, children, students and Military/Vets.

Jimmy D’s alltime Ducks– 2nd line

Decisions and placements get tougher when it comes to the top two lines and these five guys were all amazing in their time with the Ducks.

Many these guys played together during the Ducks ‘Glory Seasons’ and the other would have been an awesome fit on any of those teams.


Yari Neitenbach – The reputation of many Colorado-born players is that they are tough as nails, go over or through opposition as opposed to around and aren’t afraid to back up their actions with gloves on the ice if needed – That is Yari Neitenbach.

Yari Neitenbach

In 132 regular season games with the Ducks (tied for second most), Neitenbach put up 51 goals (tied for fourth most) and 64 assists (also fourth) for 115 points (fifth). 

Neitenbach is the all-time team leader in penalty minutes with 253 but most of the time he was joined in the sinbin by an opposition player as well.

The rugged winger was loved by teammates and Ducks’ fans and despised by almost everyone else in the league, including some coaches. That is what made him fit in perfectly on Coach Zaniboni’s team, which collectively had the same personality.

Ian Wood – An amazing leader and captain, Wood was the perfect addition during the summer of 2013.

The Ducks were looking to take another step after an awesome playoff run that Spring got them to within an overtime goal of the Bush Cup Championship.

Ian Wood

Zaniboni found this tough as nails forward out of Pittsburgh who turned in two amazing seasons with amazing stats and leadership. After another overtime disappointment in 2014, it was Captain Wood hoisting the Bush Cup in 2016. 

Wood’s 70 goals is the highest career total for a Ducks’ player and he added 55 assists (seventh) most for 125 points (third most). Wood collected 1.389 points per game and most of those points came from the top of the blue paint where Wood took a beating while making goaltenders’ lives miserable – just ask Matiss Kivlenieks.

After an amazing two-season run in the Dells, Wood moved on to Morrisville State College with several of his Ducks’ teammates. There he collected another 40 points and wore the ‘C’ again in both his junior and senior seasons. 

Wood realized a dream when he played a season of pro hockey in Sweden last season, notching another 24 points with Lindafallets SK.

As of a few months ago, Wood announced his retirement from the competitive game and he has moved on to begin his business career in Chicago where he will no doubt terrorize the goaltenders at the recreational level.

Layne Martin – Martin is a testament of a guy doing everything he can to play the game he loves. 

After a 21-game stint with the team in 2012-13 followed by a big role on the team’s amazing playoff run, Martin appeared destined to wrap up his junior career in back in Tier 2 hockey. Martin attended the Soo Eagles camp that fall and was invited to join the team. Instead, he politely thanked the coach but also let him know he intended to return to the Dells and the Ducks.

Layne Martin

How big a decision was that? Consider this – Martin surrendered a chance to play in a league with no cost to him and instead chose to pay-to-play with the Ducks. In order to make that possible, Martin took a full time (not part time) job at a fast-food establishment in Wisconsin Dells where he became as integral and important as he was to the Ducks. The only concession granted to Martin was a pass on the mandatory gym sessions in the early a.m. To my knowledge, Martin never missed a practice or a work shift. 

On the ice, Martin became the teams first and so far, only league scoring champion with a 69-point season, winning the battle to the wire over teammate Jacob Stima.

The 48 assists he picked up that season is the highest single season total ever and his 59 total assists is sixth best. He also ranks seventh in all time scoring with 92 points.

Martin went on to four more seasons at the NCAA D3 level at Morrisville State College


Bradley Hefner – ‘Little Hef’ is the Ducks ironman, his 141 games played over three seasons in a Ducks uniform is the highest career total for Ducks players.

At first glance, he might have seemed undersized for the position, but Hefner never backed down from any opponent and played a surprisingly physical game usually reserved for the bigger defenders.

Bradley Hefner

Over the course of his time in the Dells, Bradley transitioned from being at his best in his own end, to being much more comfortable in the transition game and a key cog as a quarterback for the powerplay. 

Hef never missed a game in his first USPHL season and was halfway through the second when a suspension kept him out of the lineup for the first time, ending a long streak of games played.

His scoring numbers – 20 goals and 64 assists are among the best for defensemen and the assist mark is fifth best all time on the team, while his 84 points in eighth. He also collected 184 minutes in penalties which ranks fifth highest ever.

Known for his colorful suits, Little Hef was a student of the game, often asked by Coach Zaniboni for his thoughts on certain players from other teams, Hefner knew pretty much everything about everyone.

Another who attended Morrisville State, Hefner played four full seasons there and, to the surprise of nobody, has returned to the school last season as the Assistant Coach of the Women’s Hockey team.

Billy Nichol– I am quite sure this will be the biggest surprise inclusion on my list. Nichol was a throwback defenseman from Illinois that added some legit grit and leadership on a team that desperately needed it.

Billy Nichol

The 2017-18 Ducks were the first ever rebuilding team in the history of the program. The team was extremely young, at least a few of the players still in high school underclassmen years.

Zander Zafiro was the team’s only returner, in goal and the team struggled early on just to get into the neutral zone.

Nichol had played for Coach Jeff Worlton in the NAHL the previous season and when things weren’t going his way in Springfield the following season, he joined his former coach in the Dells. 

A physical player who played with a chip on his shoulder, Nichol was relied on heavily and helped the team as much as he could. He wore a ‘C’ on his jersey along with Stone Stelzl through the second half of the season.

Jimmy D’s Top 10 Games — #3

Ducks bring it on home!

Statistically, the Ducks claiming the USP3HL National Championship in the spring of 2016 is the biggest win in team history.

After all, only champions end their season with a win — technically, the Ducks also ended the 2014 season with a win over Florida Jr. Blades at the USA Hockey Nationals, but that was in round robin play – and the team collected the highest honor it could achieve in 2016.

The reason it has been pushed down a bit on my list is because the National Championship wins might have been a bit of an anti-climax as in that season, the tougher games came earlier.

Between the 2014-15 and 2015-16, the Ducks and several other Minnesota Junior Hockey League teams moved to the United States Premier Hockey League. It was decided the large group of newcomers would be placed in the USP3HL (a pre-cursor of what is now known as the USPHL Elite League) for its first season.

The Ducks were included in the nine-team Western Conference with teams from the also merged Midwest Junior Hockey League season forming the Eastern Conference.

The playoff road might not have been the toughest the Ducks ever faced, but it was certainly the longest.

The Ducks finished third in its division despite a nice 38-8-2 regular season record. As a result, the Ducks faced the Illiana Blackbirds in the opening round of the post season and (see Top 10 Game 10) came close to being eliminated right there, needing an overtime winning in game three.

That pushed the Ducks into a road series in Chicago against the expansion Cougars who finished one point ahead of the Ducks in the regular season. This one also went the three-game limit as teams traded 2-1 overtime wins before the Ducks wrapped it up with a 3-2 victory. Chicago defeated the Ducks in the second game of the series and the Ducks never lost again that season.

The Ducks and top seeded Forest Lake Lakers (who finished two points ahead of the Ducks in the regular season) advanced to the League Championship set along with the Traverse City Hounds and Tri-City Icehawks from the Eastern Conference.

Placed in one of two Round Robin Divisions, the Ducks defeated the Hampton Roads Whalers (3-0); and Jersey Shore Whalers (6-1) to advance into the tournament’s Final Four.

A 5-2 win against the Florida Eels advanced the Ducks into the National Championship game where they once again played Hampton Roads – Wrapping up the Crown with another in a record-breaking season of shutouts for Jared Young, 5-0.

That game – the National Championship clinching shutout, is Game 3 on Jimmy D’s Top 10 Ducks games list.

The triumphant Ducks returned home to a cheering crowd at the Poppy Waterman Ice Arena. The following season, the Ducks and all the other Midwest teams were bumped up to the Premier League where many of them still reside in one of the three Midwest region divisions.

T-Birds preparing for turnaround season


By Jim denHollander



The Baraboo/Portage Thunderbirds varsity hockey team took the first strides on what coaches and players hope will be a turnaround season at Lake Delton Ice Arena last week.

Some of the 2020-21 Baraboo/Portage T-Birds hopefuls get some instructions before a drill during their Captain’s practice at Lake Delton Ice Arena on Wednesday night.

The team is running regular ‘Captain’s Practices’ at Lake Delton on Wednesday and Thursday nights with several members from a younger squad a season ago, looking to take the next step.

The team graduated six seniors last season, but among the returners this season is Campbell Koseor who led the team in scoring as a junior with 33 points (17g, 16a) in 23 games. Among the 17 goals were five on powerplay and five of his goals were game winners – an awesome stat considering the team won just 11 games.

Koseor is currently balancing a tough schedule, preparing for Baraboo’s first football game on Friday while fitting in the early hockey workouts and while the term ‘Captain’s Practice may imply a light, shinny-based workout. Koseor and his mates were engaged in a fast-paced session on Wednesday after which he took a few minutes to chat with Saukhockey.info.

The T-Birds, like RWD, the Badger Lightning and soon (at their own rink) the Sauk Prairie Eagles are all taking to the ice early to gear up for their respective varsity seasons.

Jimmy D’s Top 10 Games — #4

Norrman takes over — 2019

The Ducks have won some huge games and come up short a time or two as well. Other than its second season though, there were few upset wins as the Ducks were almost always the favorite.

Emil Norrman changed that in his season with the Ducks – 2018-19 on at least a couple occasions, including the opening round playoff series. The Swedish goaltender gave glimpses a few times through a tough regular season of what he could do, and he loaded the whole team on his back for the opening round playoff series against the heavily favored Hudson Havoc.

Emil Norrman

Favored for good reason actually, with a 31-11-1-1 regular season record, the Havoc finished with 64 points, tied for first, but moved out of the top spot due to one less win than the Minnesota Moose on the final day of the regular season. That left the Havoc 26-points clear of the seventh place Ducks.

They should have dominated the series and they did — everywhere except the scoreboard. The Ducks kept it close in the opener, winning 2-1 as Norrman turned aside 31 of 32 shots, the Ducks outshot 32-24.

The host squad, facing elimination, squeezed a little tighter in the middle game and came away with a 6-3 margin and a shots on goal edge of 38-18.

In the finale, Emil Norrman faced 52 shots and was not beaten, making a third period goal by Connor Aguilar stand up as all the offense in a 1-0 Ducks win.

The dream ended there as the Minnesota Moose threw 51 shots at Norrman in a 3-1 win and wrapped up a berth at Nationals with another 49 shots and a 4-0 win in the clincher.