By Jim den Hollander
The Dells Ducks are back in town and early indications show a team ready to return to the upper echelons of the USPHL Premier Midwest-West Division.
After five seasons with mostly young and inexperienced players trying to learn on the fly, the Ducks have a full roster of nearly 30 players — some returners, some with previous junior or college experience and some high-quality prospects making the jump from successful high school careers.
The team has returned to its roots in recent seasons with the return of Shaun Falzone, the team’s original (2011-12) Head Coach who is now the new team owner. This season Falzone has kicked himself upstairs to the office allowing him to look after the business side of things while one of his former players steps in as Head Coach.
Anthony Rohde was a player on that original squad and in two seasons since returning as an Assistant Coach and advisor he has become a popular local figure as his tireless efforts have seen him help not only the Ducks, but many of the local varsity and youth teams as well. This is much is certain to anyone who has watched Rohde in the past few seasons, he will be tireless and relentless in carving out a winning team in the Dells.
The loosely tied, heck, practically untied skates are generally on his feet from sunup to sundown and when he is not on the ice, he is standing in the lobby, cup of coffee in hand, talking hockey with anyone who wants to strike up a conversation.
Rohde’s hockey connections in Illinois and Wisconsin have helped him put together a lineup that will compete hard on weekends after being forced to compete equally as hard through the week just to earn a spot on that roster.
Back for a second season with Rohde is Mario Lachica, cut from the same mold as Rohde. They played college hockey together in Aurora and are more than familiar with each other’s styles having spent much of the last decade working together with different teams. Another former college teammate and former Ducks player, Kevin Salinas, the team’s second captain (2012-13) will also be on the bench this season.
This trio may appear mostly soft spoken in public, but make no mistake, they are here to construct a winning team and with the number of players currently signed, they have options if they don’t like what they see.
The Ducks enjoyed one day of relaxation, the day after Labor Day when they arrived in town. Since then, they have been working hard, first off the ice, and as of Monday (Sept. 12) on the ice as well.
The first pre-season test for the Ducks will take place this weekend when they head to Oshkosh to play games Saturday and Sunday against the UW-Oshkosh Titans ACHA squad. The first game will be at 7 p.m. Saturday with a second game at 3 p.m. Sunday.
The following weekend, the team will host a pre-season tournament at the Lake Delton Ice Arena with both junior and college teams taking part. The Chicago Cougars from the Midwest-East Division along with Midwest-West rival Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings will take part along with ACHA college squads from Aurora University in Illinois and UW La Crosse.
Both the Ducks and Cougars will split their team into two squads for the tournament so there will be plenty of chance to see the team in action.
The Ducks will also open its regular season and as has been custom in recent seasons, there will be a healthy helping of home games out of the gate.
Beginning September 30 against the Rivkerkings, the Ducks will open the USPHL Midwest-West schedule with seven straight home games in 16 days.
Among the differences this season, the team will not make a trip East for a Showcase in New England, instead playing three Showcase tournaments all in the Midwest.
The first will be Oct. 27-30 at Fogerty Arena in Blaine, MN and new this season will be trip to the Motor City for another four games Nov. 18-20.
The final Showcase will be the Chicago event, once again sending the Ducks into the Christmas Break, Dec. 16-19.
The Ducks have traditionally returned from the Christmas Break and headed straight to the Boston area for its third tournament, but with that out of the way, the team will be able to focus on the regular season homestretch with its final 13 games, all against Midwest-West rivals.
Watch this space in the days ahead, including the announcement of team captains and possibly some other big news for the local fans.