By Jim den Hollander
The Dells Ducks made a quick exit from the USPHL postseason but a look back on the season shows a team moving in the proper direction.
Here’s a quick review of the team’s accomplishments this season and a first look at what is in store for the team when they return in the fall.
The team’s overall record, 12-29-2-1, doesn’t look great at first glance, but here are a few reasons why it’s more than promising.
First, compare it to the previous couple seasons — The Ducks finished at 3-38-2 in 2020-21 with a young squad but managed one more win the following season, finishing at 4-39-1. The nine points collected was also one more than the previous season.
Statistically, the team showed some progress, scoring 94 goals as opposed to 65 the previous year. On average, the improvement went from 1.51 goals per game to 2.13. Defensively, the team struggled in the COVID season, allowing 356 goals in 43 regular season games for an average of 8.28 pefore r game and improved slightly with 333 goals against the following season for an average of 7.57.
Those are dismal stats but looking there shows how dramatic the team’s improvement was in 2022-23.
Ducks scored 116 goals this past season, an average of 2.64 per game and flirted with allowing less than 200, before finishing with 217 against, a still high, but much improved average of 4.93 per game.
Despite a drop of more than 100 goals against, there were still some big losses that inflated the overall number. The Ducks allowed eight or more goals in six games and teams put up a double-digit total on the locals twice and the Havoc did it once more in the post season.
Offensively, the team saved its best for last, scoring 10 in its final regular season game, the fifth time the local crew put up a total of five or higher. Ironically two of those games were losses.
The team appears headed in the right direction but it will be interesting to see if they can take another big step forward as many of the team’s top players from this season will be moving on to college next year, having aged out at the end of the 22-23 season. The team’s top.
Head Coach/GM Anthony Rohde and his assistant, Mario Lachica deserve much of the credit as they were tireless in first getting the players, then getting them on the same page.
The 27 points collected in standings this season was just shy of three times better than the nine collected the previous season. What makes that number standout more is the fact the team lost its first 14 games and had just one overtime point to show for it.
But a 2-1 win against the visiting Minnesota Blue Ox on Nov. 5 served as a turning point for the Ducks who clearly enjoyed winning, taking W’s in two of its next three as well.
From that point on, the team put together a record of 9-16-1-1, under .500 but certainly moving in the right direction.
Last season the Ducks collected no wins after returning from the Christmas Break, dropping all 12 in the crucial homestretch. This time the team went 4-9 to protect the final playoff spot. That stretch, when Showcase excursions are done and you’re facing a division rival in every match is perhaps the most crucial part of the season.
Local youth players and parents are familiar with Rohde’s style as he has worked with many of the local players. What is evident are his unique drills that improve the speed, footwork and stickhandling of almost everyone that works with him, but what many are not aware of is the time Rohde and Lachica put in watching film of their own games and their opponents’ games. They are always aware of what specifically needs to be improved and its not uncommon for the tinkering to begin during an intermission of the same game.
The coaches have already moved on to the 2023-24 campaign even while the top teams are still finishing this season.
Aging out forwards like the team’s leading scorer, Ethan Matthews, Adam Brown and captain Bryce Jacobsen were given a chance to play at a higher level down the stretch with trades to upper echelon teams. Jacobsen (Minnesota Moose) and Matthews (Richmond Generals) will both get a chance to finish their season in style at the League’s National Championship tournament in Utica, N.Y. next week.
But without those players, the team should have seen a noticeable sag in performance. Instead, the rest of the guys stepped up, putting up a team high 10 goals in its regular season finale. Rohde said those final games were effectively auditions for players looking to return to the Ducks next season.
“They took advantage of that opportunity to step up,” said Rohde adding the players are looking to impress every time on the ice.
“Every shift is a tryout for the next one,” summed up the coach in a telephone interview.
Rohde said players from Wisconsin/Illinois along with some others staying in the Midwest through the off season will get a chance to take part in some five-on-five skates, starting soon at the Lake Delton Ice Arena and continuing over the summer months in the Milwaukee and Chicago areas.
The coach estimated half of the non-aging out players could be hoping to return next season and he has been looking for players that could come in and make the team better since before the regular season ended.
The team has shown a marked improvement in nearly every area but the bar will be set higher for the 2023-24 season. Rohde and Lachica wouldn’t have it any other way.