Sauk County varsity teams rolling into season

By Jim den Hollander  

Editor/Publisher 

Saukhockey.info 

Here we go! 

The highly anticipated 2022-23 varsity High School hockey season is just days away from facing off.  

For the Sauk County teams – RWD Cheavers, Baraboo/Portage Thunderbirds and Sauk Prairie Eagles in the Badger West Conference and the Badger Lightning varsity team from the Badger Conference, weeks of captain’s practices turned into actual practices in recent days with the regular season kicking off as early as Saturday. 

The Lightning, looking to make a jump into the middle or upper tiers of the Badger Conference this season, will be first out of the gate, entertaining the Arrowhead Warhawks on Saturday.  

In terms of personnel, this is probably the biggest Lightning team in a decade or more. Two seasons ago, the team fielded exactly two lines, hoping the COVID epidemic or any other illness or injury wouldn’t affect its team that had to have every player available. 

Two seasons later, the Lightning has grown to a full 27-player roster which means junior varsity games will be included on the schedule. 

After finishing last season with a 9-13 record last season, the Lightning has its eyes on .500 or better this time around and will get an interesting test out of the gate against a Warhawks team it hasn’t faced off against in a while. 

First Badger Conference match will be Saturday Dec. 3 against the Icebergs at Mandt Community Center in Stoughton and first home league game will be Dec. 9 against the Rock County Fury from Janesville/Beloit. 

Among the leaders for the Lightning this season is an awesome group of seniors including Kayla Capener who garnered all-state recognition last season, Bella Bowden, one of the fastest skaters around looking for a bounce back after injuries and adversity kept her out of the lineup much of last season and Mallory Ruhland, a gifted goal scorer who travels all the way from Elroy to suit up.  

In goal, the Lightning has junior Alyssa Gada who has already shown herself to be one of the best keepers in the conference. With improvements all around likely limiting the shots she will face, watch for Gada to have a huge campaign. 

Sauk Prairie Eagles – of the local varsity teams, the Eagles went the furthest last season, falling in Sectional semi-finals against the Madison Edgewood Crusaders in Sectional semifinals. 

Several graduations affect the team both on offense and defense, but there are some key players returning as well, including Luke Mast who finished among the state leaders last season with 27 goals and 69 points. In three years on the varsity team, Mast has racked up 53 goals and 128 points. 

The team has plenty of experience at the most important position as well, seniors Kaden Stracke and Brooks McInerney both veterans of the high school game in goal. 

Other seniors include Cole Scallon and Landon Clary, and Head Coach David Lohrei has done an amazing job in his seasons with the team and is able to provide a game plan based on whatever strengths the team has. 

The Eagles will open the regular season with a pair of road games, in Onalaska to play the Avalanche Tuesday (Nov. 22) and at Bob Suter’s Capitol Ice Arena to face Middleton on Nov. 26. 

First home game will also be the team’s first Badger West Conference game, taking on the Oregon Panthers Nov. 29. 

RWD Cheavers – The Cheavers look solid at all positions despite graduating a goaltender who started nearly every game for the team in all four seasons he attended RAHS. 

Cooper Oakes has established every record of note for Cheavers goaltenders, but junior Alex Griebe put up some amazing numbers as a junior varsity keeper last season and Head Coach Neil Mattson is confident, he can be relied on to take the team to the next level.  

The Cheavers graduated a small but amazing group of seniors last season but led by the Brandt bothers, forward Caden and defenseman Carsen, the team looks solid both up front and on the blue line.  

Caden has scored 58 goals and collected 91 points through his first three campaigns and could be among the state scoring leaders this time around. Carsen showed his physical and mental toughness last year when he decided to put off shoulder surgery and played through some excruciating pain in the late season games. He enters this season healthy and ready to go. 

John Scott is coming off not only his best season with the Cheavers, scoring 14 goals, but also an awesome season as a running back for WDHS football which has college scouts from two different sports knocking on his door. 

Other key contributors among the seniors are hardnosed forwards Caleb Eastman, Yevgeny Dedun and Conner Putz along with defenders Nate Stando and Logan DeMars, both regulars on the blue line along with Carsen Brandt last season.  

RWD will have to hit the ground running with a tough opening to the regular season, including its annual duel against the Wisconsin Rapids Red Raiders, opening the season at RACA on Tuesday, followed up by a return visit to the four-team tournament in Somerset on Friday/Saturday. 

RWD will open against the Eau Claire North Huskies Friday.  

Following that, the Cheavers will head into a stretch of five straight Badger West Conference contests, taking it immediately to the halfway mark of the conference season. 

Baraboo/Portage Thunderbirds – Thunderbirds had its struggles last season with illness, injury and adversity playing a key part.  

Positive reinforcement from Head Coach David Clark and great leadership from forwards Oliver Scanlan and Gabe Fitzwilliams and goaltender Andrew Schaetzl kept the team in a lot of games. 

Clark has moved away from Baraboo, but Tony Bluske who has been with the team for several seasons and knows the players well, will be a perfect fit as the new mentor. 

Like Griebe with RWD, Burke Schweda showed his potential in both junior varsity and varsity games last season, and he will give the team stability in the blue paint this year and into the future. Brother Luke Schweda, a hard working forward with a nose for the net will be among the senior leaders as well as others. 

The Thunderbirds will kick off the regular season on the road, taking on Monona Grove Silver Eagles Tuesday and will play its first three games on the road, including a tough conference opener against defending champion Madison Edgewood on Nov. 28. 

First home game for the Baraboo/Portage fans will be the first of three straight at home Nov. 29 against Tomah/Sparta. 

Ducks could pick up some revenge at Detroit Showcase

By Jim den Hollander  

Editor/Publisher 

Saukhockey.info 

The Dells Ducks will wrap up a stretch of 14 games played over the past four weekends with its second Showcase event of the season, this time in Fraser, MI, near Detroit.

Dells Ducks

The Ducks will be playing in the Detroit Showcase for the first time, substituting it for its annual east coast trek taken in previous seasons. 

The Ducks roll into the event having won three of its past five games and as hot as it has been in a couple seasons.  

For the Ducks, the event will begin on Friday (Nov. 18) with a 7 p.m. (EST) puck drop against the Decatur Blaze. The Ducks played the Blaze at the Chicago Showcase last season and fell 6-5 in overtime. This season the 3-13-3 Ducks will be facing a Blaze team with just one win in 17 games in the Midwest-East Division. 

The busiest day will be Saturday as the Ducks play twice, squaring off against the Motor City Gamblers at 2:30 p.m. EST and returning for an 8:30 p.m. game against the Columbus Mavericks. The Ducks also played both teams at last season’s Chicago Showcase, falling 6-5 to the Gamblers, known then as the Detroit Fighting Irish and beaten badly by the Mavs. This season the Gamblers enter with a 9-9 record in the Midwest East and the Mavericks are struggling at 6-9-1 in the Great Lakes Division. 

Wrapping up the tournament and the pre-Thanksgiving schedule will be a 3:30 p.m. game Sunday against the Fort Wayne Spacemen from the Midwest-East Division. The Spacemen are off to a solid start this season and this game will be the first ever between these two teams. 

Mid-term grade for Ducks not easy to evaluate

By Jim den Hollander  

Editor/Publisher 

Saukhockey.info 

Jimmy D’s Notes

Believe it or not, the Dells Ducks will pass the halfway mark on its USPHL Premier Midwest-West Division regular season this weekend.  

Part of the reason for that is a busy stretch that has seen the team playing either 3 or 4 games in each of the past four weekends heading into a well-deserved Thanksgiving break, its first since Labor Day Weekend. 

Looking at mid-term grades for the team is tricky. Overall, it appears the first semester was just too tough for a team that found it hard to carry what it picked up in class into the weekly tests.  

The team enters the Detroit Showcase starting Friday with an overall record of 3-13-2-1. Not exactly championship material, but the team has also posted a mark of 3-3-1-1 in its past eight games. 

If the team can carry on with that momentum through this weekend and beyond, the future could be bright indeed.  

The team is just different this season. Long periods spent inside of its own blue line resulted in goaltenders facing 50-plus shots on goal routinely last season. The Ducks have managed to skate with their opponents and have held the edge in shots almost as often as it hasn’t this season. 

As a result, goals against have dropped drastically. The 99 goals against is still the most in the Midwest-West Division but last season the Ducks allowed 333 goals against which was an improvement on the 356 allowed the previous season. The Ducks are on a pace to allow just over 200 this season but taking into consideration the defense and standout goaltending of late means the second half of the season could see goal allowed dropping further. 

Meanwhile goals for has sputtered a bit, in the early games this season, but once again, comparing it to previous seasons tells a slightly different story. 

The Ducks have scored 46 goals through their first 19 games which is an average of about 2.5 per game. The Ducks have been shutout three times and have allowed two or less in 10 of 19 games. The team has also scored five goals three times and with the drastic reduction of goals against in recent games, two has been enough to win on a couple of occasions. 

Last season the Ducks scored a total of 94 goals and the previous season they potted just 65. The team is on pace to surpass both totals this year. 

With the usual handicapping at the Showcase tournaments, the Ducks heads into this weekend facing four winnable contests. In a way, it could be a negative that the team is heading into a break, but the team has left the launchpad and this weekend could be the beginning of a climb from the bottom to midpack in the Midwest-West Division.  

Who knows where things could go from there. 

Despite overall results that would indicate a failing grade, I am giving the team a ‘C’ at the midterm and hoping that grade will improve with an awesome run down the backstretch and into the final turn.