Here’s to the defenders that play defense

By Jim den Hollander  


Jimmy D’s Notes

This article is about something that kept me awake last night as I pondered the unsung heroes of hockey. 

Like many sports, hockey is driven by statistics. Along with W’s, the ultimate team stat, goals, assists, shots on goal and for a goaltender, saves stick out on a game sheet. They also make it much easier for someone like to put a story together off a game sheet. 

Generally, the forwards look after the offense and the goaltenders gain notice for the stops.  

But what about the defenders? 

Since a young player named Bobby joined the Boston Bruins in the late 60’s defenders get almost as involved with the scoring as the forwards do, but their primary job is still looking after the ‘other’ half of the ice.  

Before Bobby Orr played a big part in delivering the Bruins from what most of the team’s fans refer to as the ‘Dark Ages,’ defensemen led the league with 20-40 points, but they reached legendary status based on their defensive abilities. Names like Doug Harvey, Bobby Bahn, Tim Horton and Pierre Pilote likely wouldn’t be among the top 50 defensemen in today’s NHL, scoring-wise but they were well known then.

Last year, Cale Makar drew comparisons to Orr by some writers and maybe he made a case for it with 86 points for the Colorado Avalanche. Looking at his stats for last season I found his points, the +/-, Penalty Minutes, Special Teams scoring and points. He won the Norris Trophy as the League’s best defenseman based mostly on those statistics. 

For most, this story so far contains a lot of names of players you never heard of and facts you already knew about Makar who is no doubt a great defender. 

But how can someone who doesn’t watch a player everyday know just how good their defensemen are in their own end. 

Average Time on Ice is one statistic I have become familiar with from my fantasy team as well as blocked shots but they don’t tell the whole story. Sure, the best defensemen are on the ice more, that makes perfect sense. However, it’s the best offensive defensemen that get the powerplay minutes and generally set up the offense in all situations. Blocked Shots are interesting as it is obviously defenders who generally lead this statistic, but it has little bearing on Norris Trophy voting as a rule. 

I’ll tell you who knows which defensemen play the best in their own end – goaltenders. If you talk to most goaltenders, they will shift much of the credit for any of their own success to the guys who patrol the ice in their own end.  

Defensemen can’t stop shots from being taken, but they can limit it with the blocks and also force puck carriers into shooting from low percentage areas, farther away and generally from the sides. Goalies (and coaches usually) know who does that best and in the case of the goalies, they likely thank them profusely in the locker room afterwards.  

But there is no stat for that. In fact, the only time defenders usually stick out in that area is when they fail. Again goaltenders and their fans are usually aware of the time so and so looked like a pylon on a play or made a bad pass through the middle of their own zone. 

I wondered last night if there is a similar position and I don’t know a lot about other sports, but I was thinking maybe offensive linemen in football. Their only job is to prevent the defense from busting through and turning their quarterback into minced meat. The defensive line has practiced all week how to get through and they were likely dreaming of crushing the quarterback the night before the game.  

So defense and offensive linemen share the fact their best stat is no stat. Not beaten, not pushed aside and no turnovers. 

When I was a youngster, I got a goalie net for Christmas. It allowed me to play the game whenever I wanted, even if there was nobody else around. I could invent games or make up scenarios where I am the hero firing my tennis ball into the twine. I imagined (usually in slow motion for the dramatic effect) scoring the overtime game winner that won the Stanley Cup for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not once did I imagine myself tipping the puck off a forward’s stick or blocking the shot that would have tied the contest in the final seconds.  

Ironically, while the NHL has an Award for the Best Defensive Forward, Norris is the lone honor for defenders, and it generally goes to the one who showed up the score sheet the most.  

As a coach, I can only recall one player, a then-mite named Jason Seufzer that actually took pride in limiting opposition opportunities. Man, that kid loved playing defense. He used to stand back on the red line when we were in the attacking zone – just in case. That is not to say I didn’t have tons of good defenders that played on my teams. But all things considered, they would rather be the ones scoring goals. 

But obviously many grow to love the position and learn to be experts at limiting opportunities, paying attention to angles and getting the puck to the forwards on the other side of their own blue line. Ask any coach – they are vital to any team’s success. They just do most of it routinely and without much notice.  

Here’s to those players. 


T-Birds tough opening road stretch ends at Edgewood

By Jim den Hollander  


Coming off a pair of tough losses against Monona Grove and Waupun, the Thunderbirds wrapped up a three-game season opening road trek with what could be its toughest game of the season, opening the Badger West Conference schedule with a 10-0 loss against the host Madison Edgewood Crusaders at Le Bahn Ice Arena in Madison. 

The Crusaders enter 2022-23 as the defending conference champs and rolled into the contest Monday also sporting an 0-2 record with weekend losses against defending state champion Hudson and Chippewa Falls on the road.  

The Baraboo/Portage Thunderbirds absorbed another tough lesson Monday, heading into a tough and busy week of WIAA action. 

Once again, Thunderbirds’ goaltender Burke Schweda was a bright spot for the locals, especially early, as they came out of the opening period down 2-0 despite a 17-4 edge in shots for the home side. Unfortunately for the T-Birds, that was already half of its game total as the Crusaders rolled to a 55-8 margin overall.  

Schweda has kicked out 174 shots in three games for Baraboo/Portage but because of the scores, it has likely gone unnoticed by many, 

The Crusaders added five more unanswered middle period goals and sank three more in the third, led by freshman Owen Koch and sophomore David Halblieb with three goals apiece. 

The good news for the Thunderbirds is the toughest road portion of its scheduled is now in the rearview mirror and the team is scheduled to play its first game in front of friendly fans tonight (Nov. 28) at Pierce Park Pavilion against Tomah/Sparta from the Mississippi Valley Conference.  

A non-conference tilt, this would normally be considered a good opportunity for the Thunderbirds to break into the win column but after opening the season with a 4-2 loss against Black River Falls Tigers in its opener Friday, Tomah/Sparta took its frustrations out on the Stoughton Vikings from the Badger East 9-2 the following night. Both Tomah/Sparta games so far have been on home ice.  

Thunderbirds have just one goal in three games and will be looking to get its offense on track in this one at Pierce Park Pavilion.  

Thunderbirds will wrap up a four-game week and a three-game homestand with a Thursday night contest against the Janesville Blue Birds from the Big Eight Thursday before playing its first conference match on home ice Saturday against the Sauk Prairie Eagles. Tuesday and Thursday games start at 7 p.m. with the weekend contest starting at 5 p.m. 

Gada shutout leads Lightning past Golden Beavers

By Jim den Hollander 


The Badger Lightning varsity hockey team broke into the win column Saturday thanks in part to a 22-save shutout for junior goaltender Alyssa Gada and a goal from senior Mallory Ruland. 

That turned out to be the game winner and the lone goal in a 1-0 win for the Lightning.  

After Ruland’s goal, set up by first-year Kyran Merrell and sophomore Katelyn Allen with 4:46 to play in the opening period, it was all up to the goaltenders – Gada with the goose egg and Beaver Dams’ Emily Smedema who kicked out 35 of 36 at Pierce Park Pavilion in Baraboo.  

The win boosted the Lightning record to 1-1 while the Golden Beavers were playing their first game of the season. The game was the first Badger Conference game of the season for both teams. 

The Lightning will be back in action Tuesday, hitting the road for the first time this season to take on the Wisconsin Valley Union at South Wood County Recreation Center in Wisconsin Rapids in a 5 p.m. contest. The Lightning will stay on the road for three games with confrerence matches on Saturday at Stoughton’s Mandt Community Center against the Icebergs and a visit to Sun Prairie Ice Arena Monday Dec. 5 to play the Cap City Cougars.  

Next home game for the locals will be another conference tilt against the Rock County Fury at Pierce Park Pavilion Dec. 9. 

Alyssa Gada stopped everything the Beaver Dam Golden Beavers could fire against her in collecting her first win and first shutout of the 2022/23 season Saturday at Pierce Park Pavilion. Photo Courtesy Jessica Othmer
Mallory Ruland (13) handles the puck off a faceoff Saturday with some help from teammate and fellow senior Lani Selje.(25). Photo Courtesy Jessica Othmer

Cheavers double up Robins 4-2 in Somerset Conso

By Jim den Hollander 


The RWD Cheavers rebounded from a tough loss Friday, doubling the Antigo Red Robins 4-2 to capture the Consolation title at the Somerset Invitational Tournament on Saturday. 

Cheavers were led by senior John Scott who set up three, but the final score flatters the Red Robins as the Cheavers dominated them with a 48-11 edge in shots on goal. 

Junior Brady Baldwin fired his second of the season and second of the weekend to put the Cheavers in front, from Scott and senior Carsen Brandt with the lone goal of the first period in the 10th minute. 

Robins dressed just 10 skaters for the contest but kept it close and Paden Michalik pulled them even early in the middle period. Junior Iszak Elder put the Cheavers up again 9:04 into the period with his first of the season, helped by junior Andrey Tougas and Scott.  

That 2-1 cushion help up into the final period when Tougas hit the net with the game winner early in the period, from senior Logan DeMars and junior Trey Lariden. 

Riley Leveque got the Robins within a goal again near the halfway mark of the final frame setting the stage for senior Caden Brandt who sank his fourth of the campaign on a feed from Scott 91 seconds later.  

Scott (2g, 3a) and Caden Brandt (4g, 1a) share the overall team scoring lead three games in with five points apiece.  

Alex Griebe collected his second win of the season in goal for the Cheavers. 

While the Cheavers moved to 2-1 on the season, the Robins fell back to 2-2 heading into play in the Great Northern Conference, Somerset Spartans captured the championship of its own event with a 3-2 win against the Eau Claire North Huskies later Saturday.

The Cheavers will enjoy a few days off allowing them to prepare for the Badger West Conference opener at Oregon Ice Arena against the host Panthers on Friday. 

Next home game for the Cheavers will be at Reedsburg Area Community Arena (RACA) Tuesday, Dec. 6, the second of five straight conference matches that will carry them to the league’s halfway mark before Christmas for a second consecutive season. 

Eagles’ late rally falls just short in Middleton

By Jim den Hollander  


The Eagles made things interesting with a solid third period but ultimately fell short Saturday, doubled by the host Middleton Cardinals at Bob Suter’s Capitol Ice Arena. 

The host Cards held a solid advantage through the first 34 minutes, outshooting its guest 40-22 and building a 3-0 lead despite some nice work between the pipes from Eagles’ senior Kaden Stracke.  

The Eagles flipped the script in the final period, outshooting the Cards 17-14 down the stretch and getting two goals in 78 seconds to get within one late in the contest. 

Junior Brady Engelkes fired the lone goal of the opening period for the home side with second period goals coming from junior Cam Semrad and senior Hayden WiLmmer.  

Landon Froese likely won’t forget the first goal of his varsity career, the freshman converting a feed from junior Colin Harrington and senior Luke Mast with 3:05 to play.  

Sophomore Gunnar Nachreiner pulled the Eagles within one, from senior Landon Cleary made the game much more interesting, but Middleton senior Drew Sjowall put it away with his empty netter 46 seconds after the Nachreiner tally. 

Stracke stopped 50 of 53 shots for the Eagles with one shot into an empty cage. At the other end, senior Cam Haynes handled 37 of 39 in a wide open contest.

The Eagles fell to 1-1 with the tough loss while the Cardinals look strong out of the game, defeating powerhouse teams Waunakee Warriors and Onalaska Hilltoppers by a combined score of 19-2 before taking on the Eagles who will open its Badger West Conference season against the 1-0-0 Oregon Panthers Tuesday in its home opener at Sauk Prairie Area Recreation Center (SPARC). 

Schweda turns in another unreal effort on home ice

By Jim den Hollander  


Despite coming up way short in a 6-0 defeat in the Baraboo/Portage Thunderbirds varsity hockey home opener, goaltender Burke Schweda came up with another superhero effort between the pipes. 

It took the visiting Waupun Warriors 19:59 to find a way past the Baraboo/Portage sophomore goaltender and by the time they did, he had already blanked them with 18 first period saves and was on his way to an unreal 31 stops on 34 shots in the middle period. 

That the Warriors scored five more and captured the shutout win seems moot when held up against an amazing 67-stop effort for the young keeper. Schweda has now made 129 stops through his first two contests of the season. So while his 6.50 Goals Against Average won’t turn any heads, a .908 Save Percentage is positively sparkling. 

Warriors scored three in both the second and third period, led by three off the stick of senior Payson Landal, two from junior Nate Batzler and the ice breaker scored by sophomore Dylan Pribbenow. 

The loss dropped the T-Birds to 0-2 on the season so far while the Warriors, from the Badgerland Conference were playing their opening game of the season.  

The road won’t get any easier for the Thunderbirds who open Badger West Conference play Monday (Nov. 28) making the trip to LeBahn Ice Arena in Madison to take on the defending conference champion Madison Edgewood Crusaders who will be both hungry and angry after also opening their regular season with an 0-2 record. 

Scott scores two but Huskies hold off Cheavers

By Jim den Hollander  


For a second straight season the RWD varsity Cheavers ran into a tough Eau Claire North Huskies team at the Somerset Invitational tournament.

This time around teams met in their respective opening games at the tournament, the Huskies advancing to the championship game with a 5-3 win against the Cheavers. Both the game winning and game clinching goals came in the final four minutes of the contest. 

Teams traded goals through the first period, senior Nick Thompson firing his first of three in the game 5:13 into the contest before Brady Baldwin notched his first of the campaign about four minutes later, unassisted on the Cheavers’ powerplay. 

The lone goal of the second period came seven seconds into the session, senior John Scott burying his first of two in the contest and first of the season with just seven ticks off the clock. This goal was also unassisted. 

The Huskies rallied to tie the score 4:25 into the final period, Thompson pulling the trigger again and senior Brayton Thillman put them in front again at the 9:17 mark.  The lead lasted just 27 seconds before Scott buried his second of the game, from senior Caden Brandt. 

Thompson connected on a powerplay with 3:28 to go to finish off his hat trick and before the final buzzer Thillman added another as well. 

Sophomore Alex Griebe kicked out 26 of 31 shots in the contest while senior Tristan Bock collected the win in the season opener for the Huskies with 24 saves.  

The other game in the four-team tournament matched 2-0 Antigo Red Robins against Somerset Spartans, setting up a consolation match between the Red Robins and Cheavers Saturday while the Spartans and Huskies were scheduled to play for the championship. 

Trying to keep up on the road

By Jim den Hollander


First I want to thank everyone for being so friendly when I was home briefly. I am now back in Orillia, ON for a few weeks, before dashing to Chicago for the USPHL Showcase tournament in mid-December.

I enjoyed seeing the Lightning and RWD make their varsity debuts and now will try to keep up on them, primarily through the use of boxscores. I have been following the junior Ducks online as well and I want to welcome any of the local youth teams to send boxscores, pics or whatever you have. My email is I had a different one I used last year but somehow it disappeared. That is my only email now so it will get to me. Sometimes it takes a few days to get through them all, but I will do my best.

I was excited to see Sauk Prairie which has transformed in recent years to one of the best hockey programs in the state has set their sights even higher with some high caliber U14 squads under the Lake City Whitecaps moniker. Congrats on taking another big step and running a great program. I haven’t been able to track down a logo online for that yet so if anyone has one, I could sure use it in my email as well.

Also, any of the varsity coaches that want to send comments or observations from yourself and/or players, I would happily use them as well. Thanks to Jessica Othmer I should have pics of RWD and Lightning varsity and possibly JV games. I would welcome any others from Baraboo/Portage and Sauk Prairie but unfortunately all I can offer as of right now is a photo credit. Maybe that will change for next season.

Thanks again to everyone that has helped and supported. I am getting to work now on all of the weekend action so I can be true to my word. I hope you all have a great holiday season.

Mast collects four points to lead Eagles past Avs

By Jim den Hollander
Sauk Prairie Eagles senior Luke Mast scored the first three and set up the other, leading his squad to a 4-2 edge at the Onalaski Omni against the La Crosse Aquinas/Holmen Avalanche in the WIAA season opener for both on Tuesday night.

The Eagles never trailed, but were helped by senior goaltender Kaden Stracke who collected the win despite a 25-20 edge in shots for the hosts.
Mast opened the scoring, converting a feed from junior Colin Harrington 4:58 into the contest but the lead lasted just over two minutes before Avs freshman Ayden Dirks collected his first varsity goal to tie it up.

An unassisted goal by Mast 86 seconds later gave the Eagles a 2-1 lead at the break and he added an insurance tally in the opening minute of the middle period from Harrington and sophomore Gunnar Nachreiner.
Mast played set up man along with junior Garret Mittelsteadt later in the period.
Jack Barth, another Avs Freshman scored the lone third period goal 2:55 from the final buzzer.

The win is the fifth straight and the eighth in nine meetings for the Eagles against the Avs.
The Eagles will stay on the road for its second game, Saturday, but its just down Highway 12 at Bob Suter’s Capitol Ice Arena against the host Middleton Cardinals in a 7:45 p.m. start.
The Eagles’ first home game will also be the team’s first Badger West Conference game as the Oregon Panthers pay a visit on Tuesday, Nov. 29.

Schweda kicks out 62 but its not enough for T-Birds

By Jim den Hollander
Baraboo/Portage Thunderbirds ran into a tough opponent on the road in its 2022-23 WIAA Season opener Tuesday night.

The Monona Grove Silver Eagles from the Badger East Conference were a tough host at Hartmeyer Ice Arena in East Madison, triggering nearly 70 shots against Thunderbirds’ sophomore Burke Schweda on the way to a 7-1 win.

Schweda faced 20 in the first period along and stopped all but two as the Homeside carried a 2-0 lead into the middle frame.
Junior Peyton Sloan cut the lead in half with his unassisted marker in the second period, but the hosts scored two more, widening the gap to 4-1 before the end of the period.
Three more unanswered in the final period on 26 shots wrapped up the 7-1 decision for the Silver Eagles.

Juniors Tyson Turner and Wyatt Groth and senior Triton Karns-Bingham scored two each to pace the Silver Eagles with other goal for sophomore Myles Bible,

In all, Schweda handled 62 of 69 Silver Eagles’ chances.

The Thunderbirds will try to shrug off the tough opening contest as they play their home opener at Pierce Park Pavilion against the Waupun Warriors from the Badgerland Conference. Game time on Saturday is scheduled for 6 p.m.