Great memories of Ducks, Zaniboni for Vella

By Jim den Hollander  

Editor/Publisher 

Saukhockey.info 

In the late summer of 2013, a 16-year-old hopeful from Rochester, NY was looking to catch on with the Dells Ducks, a team coming off a solid sophomore season that didn’t end until overtime in the third and deciding game of the MNJHL Division Championship series. 

Chris Vella

With many returners the bar was set high for the team.  

Chris Vella made the roster and waited patiently to get his shot and made the most of it when it finally happened.  

Eight years later, Vella, who will turn 24 in November, turned in four amazing seasons with the Ducks under, forged a longstanding friendship with players and a coach he was so close to he considers them family now. He went from rookie sponge to rugged leader, serving two seasons as team Captain before moving on to four more seasons at Morris State University in New York. 

A couple weeks ago he made his pro debut with the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs of the SPHL. After his second game, this past weekend, Vella, one of the most popular Ducks players, took some time to respond to an emailed interview, looking back on his time in the Dells and beyond. 

Vella’s responses are written in full below. Thanks for the memories Vella. 

Saukhockey.info — Your career with the Ducks is inspirational and I use it as an example of a player that came in and showed patience and hard work could pay off at the junior level. You went from a healthy scratch in your first few months to a two-time captain and one of the team’s all time leaders on and off the stats sheet. Can you share some of your best memories of your four seasons with the Ducks? 
 

Chris Vella — I absolutely loved playing for the Ducks, it was a family environment everyday and I have met some of my best friends that I still keep in touch with today. I have even been to two of my teammates weddings! Winning two championships with the ducks is something I will never forget and couldn’t have been possible without having a tight knit group.  

SH — You joined a number of former Ducks teammates at Morrisville State College where you played four more seasons. What was the biggest difference between NCAA Division 3 and Tier 3 junior hockey? Was it made easier having friends in place when you arrived there? 

CV — The biggest difference between Tier 3 junior hockey and NCAA D3 hockey is the physicality and speed of the game. Coach Bill Zaniboni did a great job preparing his players to make the jump to the next level and succeed wherever that may be, not only on the ice but off the ice as well. One thing Coach Bill said that stuck with me throughout my career was “take pride in everything you do”. That helped me on the ice and in the classroom. It definitely was much easier going into a program where I knew a handful of former teammates. A lot of players will move on to organizations not knowing a single person, and I think having that relationship right from day one helped me make a quick adjustment into college.  

SH — What did you major in at Morrisville? Was it difficult after being out of school for a couple years to become a student athlete? What are some of your best memories from Morrisville? Did you fill the same role as both a penalty killing expert and offensive threat while in New York? 
 

CV — I was an Exercise Science major at Morrisville. In my first semester I struggled after being out of school for a few years, I really had to relearn time management skills to balance school and hockey. One of my favorite memories at Morrisville was sweeping Fredonia the first weekend of my junior year. 2019-2020 was a better year for the program, unfortunately we just missed the playoffs, but we started to find success. I am looking forward to seeing that carry over in the program’s future. I did play a lot on the penalty kill for Morrisville, I didn’t produce a ton offensively, but my numbers did increase during my junior season and was excited to see success in my final year.  
 

SH — It must have been a little disappointing at least wrapping up your college hockey career with small or no crowds and likely shortened seasons. Was it a stressful situation for you and your teammates or did you try to focus on studies to overcome it? 
 

CV – Luckily, we were able to finish the 2019-2020 season with no cancellations or restrictions due to Covid. My senior season was cancelled 2 months into the school year, and it was a very difficult time for all the players as well as the coaching staff. We were only able to skate and use the gym in small groups, most classes were online, and it was very difficult for the team to get together socially. 

SH — When did you start to think about taking a run at a pro career? What made you decide on Virginia? Did you approach them or did someone from there talk to you? 

CV — After the season was cancelled, I really had no clue what I was going to do. I went home to Rochester for the second semester and finished classes online as well as complete a Physical Therapy internship. I spent a few months just focusing on school, hopped on the ice once a week, but it wasn’t until about January or February I had a conversation with Coach Bill that I wanted to continue my hockey career and play professionally. Coach Bill helped me a ton this past summer with getting me in contact with coaches as well as giving me advice on how to achieve my goal. I had two former teammates that played for the Rail Yard Dawgs, they said very good things about the organization and told me to reach out to the Head Coach.  

SH — Did it feel any different (nerves-wise I mean) suiting up for your first pro game, opposed to your first college or junior game? What do you expect your role will be as a rookie with the Rail Yard Dawgs? 

CV — I think I felt nervous for all my first games at every level I have played at, especially at the pro level. Not only was it my first pro game, but it was also my first hockey game in about a year and a half. The following week I was able to adapt to the pressure and tell myself not to be nervous and just to play hockey and I felt much better my second game. My role on the team here in Roanoke is very similar to the role I’ve played for past teams. I am a hardworking and simple player. I expect to hit, block shots, and play a ton of minutes on the penalty kill.  

Vella is two games into the 56-game Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) season with the Rail Yard Dawgs. Anyone who has purchased the HockeyTV app to watch junior hockey also should have access to SPHL games this season. 

Ducks squad runs out of gas near finish line

By Jim den Hollander  

Editor/Publisher 

Saukhockey.info 

The ninth and final period of a busy weekend was where the understaffed and not entirely well Dells Ducks team hit a wall on Sunday afternoon. 

With a pair of decent, but ultimately unsuccessful efforts in the Twin Cities against the Minnesota Mullets already under its belt, the Ducks stopped at the Four Seasons Center in Owatonna on the way home Sunday afternoon to take on the host Steele County Blades.

 The Ducks entered the weekend with a depleted roster with several team members either battling or just finished with a cold. Even at 2-2 early and down 4-2 with a period to go, the Ducks ultimately succumbed 8-2.

The Ducks were facing a Blades team that opened the season with five wins in its first eight games but coming off an 11-5 win on home ice against the Minnesota Blue Ox who beat them soundly for a second time already this season. 

The Ducks tried to take advantage in the opening periods, staying with the Blades for the most part, but trailing 3-2 after 20 minutes. The Blades added one more in the second and the game was still up for grabs entering the final 20. But the Ducks were running on empty and got beat four more times although the shot clock showed a somewhat closer margin, 15-11 for the host Blades.  

Overall, the Blades outshot the Ducks 53-28, a margin that while still wide, is staring to be narrowed at both ends. Ducks enjoyed its best weekend in terms of shots on goal so far this season.  

Down 2-0 before the game’s three-minute mark, the Ducks fought back with goals from Bryce Jacobsen and Jayden Tkaczuk 18 seconds apart to even the score at the 7:16 mark. Thomas Howell and Jacob Cartland also collected points with an assist apiece.  

Tanner Stendel paced the Blades’ attack firing three goals and adding three assists for his first six points of the season.  

Anthony Falzone started for the Ducks, stopping 38 shots before Drew Moseley mopped up in the third with another seven stops. 

It would be nice to be able to say the Ducks will get a chance to catch its breath, but instead the team is rolling through its shortest off-week of the season, heading back to Blaine, MN for a four-game weekend at the Midwest-West Showcase.  

Ducks will begin play at 12:30 p.m. Thursday with a rematch against the Mullets, then gets a rematch against the Blades on Friday at 9 a.m. The Ducks will play a second game Friday at 5:40 p.m. against the Rum River Mallards, the first meeting since the opening weekend of the season with this rival. Wrapping up play on Saturday, the Ducks will face off against the Minnesota Blue Ox at 5:40 p.m. 

The Ducks enter the Showcase with a 1-10-0-0 record, in eighth place in the division, three points behind the Mallards and a Hudson Havoc team that has played just four games so far. 

Short staffed but strong Ducks hit the road

By Jim den Hollander 

Editor/Publisher 

Saukhockey.info 

A short-staffed and under the weather Dells Ducks team turned in two solid, if not successful efforts in the first two games of a three-game road trip. 

After a 5-1 Friday night against the Minnesota Mullets, the Ducks turned in an even tougher challenge Saturday evening, the Mullets clinching a 5-2 win with five ticks on the clock into an empty Ducks’ cage at the Augsburg University Ice Arena.

The Ducks welcomed back former team member Jason Heard who collected 50 points (21g, 29a) in 81 games with the team in 2018-19 and 2019-20. Formerly a Georgia resident, Heard now calls Chicago home but has agreed to join the team on weekends to help.  

Heard made his presence felt with a goal and assist Saturday, moving him into a tie with Brett Johnson for 16th place on the Ducks’ all-time scoring leader list. 

Heard was just one of the stories in the two-game set, sharing the spotlight with Caden Glamkowski and Jayden Tkaczuk who both scored as well and the goaltending tandem of Drew Moseley and rookie William Carney, who made an exceptional junior debut.  

Mosely went between the pipes Friday night, getting off to a bit of a shaky start with two goals against in the opening 5:30 of the contest, but then backstopping his team to 28:23 without letting anything past, going deep into the second before the Mullets finally connected on a couple more despite a lopsided 21-8 edge on the shot clock through the middle period. 

Moseley ended up with 43 saves on the night. 

The Ducks gained some consolation in this one as Glamkowski fired his seventh goal of the season with just over five minutes to go, denying Mullets’ goaltender Alex Falkenhagen a shutout. 

Overall, the Mullets held an edge of 48-34 edge on the shot clock, probably the Ducks’ lowest shots against and for sure its most shots for by a country mile. 

On Saturday night, Carney went to the blue paint for the first time and passed a huge test, beaten just once in the first and final periods and twice in a second period that saw him face a 23-shot barrage. With his work in goal, the Ducks remained in contention in this one until the final period.  

The Mullets owned a 1-0 lead after a period and goals by Glamkowski and Heard kept it a one-goal deficit heading to the final frame.  Tkaczuk, Heard and Jake Cartland collected assists for the Ducks. 

Unfortunately, despite a marked improvement in all areas, the Ducks have little to show for the efforts, falling to 1-9-0-0 early in the season.  

The Ducks were scheduled to stop in Owatonna’s Four Seasons Center to play the Steele County Blades on Sunday, then return home to begin preparation for a four-game weekend at the Midwest-West Showcase tournament at Fogerty Ice Arena in Blaine, MN beginning Thursday. 

Ducks prepare for busy stretch

By Jim den Hollander 

Editor/Publisher 

Saukhockey.info 

The Dells Ducks absorbed a couple more losses this past weekend, but the young building squad saw a small, but marked improvement from Saturday to Sunday and individually, a core group is quietly putting up some awesome offensive numbers.  

The task may not be getting tougher, but for sure more frequent as the team is now well into a long and busy stretch that will not relent until Thanksgiving.  

The next two weeks is the busiest of all with 10 games in just over two weeks beginning with a three-game road trip, starting in the Twin Cities, and wrapping up Sunday in Owatonna, MN. The first two games will be against the Minnesota Mullets, a team off to a similarly slow start to the season and equally as desperate to turn things around. On the other hand, the Steele County Blades who will entertain the Ducks on Sunday are off to an awesome 4-1-0-1 start and battling among the division leaders.  

Previously known as the Lakers (out of Edina and Maple Grove), since its transformation to the Mullets, the team coached by Chris Walby, a Sauk County area native has a record of 10-3 against the Ducks. Last season the two teams battled four times; all Mullets wins by a combined score of 32-5.  

This season the Mullets have faced a tough schedule out of the gate and sit at 2-4 and looking forward to a chance to even its record up. 

The Blades have won the past seven meetings against the Ducks including five from last season and as a result, they now have a 9-5 edge in meetings with the local team dating back to the 2018-19 regular season. 

While the Ducks have found it tough to find the win column again this season with just one ‘W’ in its first eight contests, there are some sparkling individual numbers. The team that put up just 65 goals in 43 contests a year ago has already scored 18 in eight games this season.  

Caden Glamkowski, a rookie forward from St. Charles, IL has played a big part, in on all but five of the team’s goals so far. He has six goals and 13 points and is one of a group of players on a pace for an offensive season.  

Bryce Jacobson has three goals and 11 points through the first eight games – two more points than he collected in a half season in 2020-21. Jacob Cartland, another rookie, from Mukwonago, WI, was one of the WIAA’s leading scorers with KMMO last season and has made a seamless transition to the junior level with six goals and nine points. Also, Jayden Tkaczuk, the team’s top scorer with 19 points a season ago has missed half of the eight with a suspension but still has a goal and seven points in the other four. 

The team’s youngest player, rookie defender Jack Kopfstein, an ‘05 from California has shown poise and maturity beyond his years despite playing as part of an understaffed and overworked defense corps. Goaltenders Anthony Falzone and Drew Moseley have handled the bulk of the workload and while facing as many shots in a period as most will in a game, they have remained confident and excited about their work between the pipes. The effort and intensity belie the stats they have been saddled with. 

After this weekend, the Ducks will return home for a few practices before attending its first of three Showcase events before Christmas. This one involves the eight Midwest-West Division teams and will be held at the Fogerty Ice Arena Oct. 22-25. Following that, the team will begin November with a three-game weekend in its final homestand of 2021. 

Vella makes pro debut with Rail Yard Dawgs

By Jim den Hollander

Editor/Publisher

Saukhockey.info

Another former member of the Dells Ducks has worn a pro jersey as Chris Vella suited up for the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs in the team’s Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) home and season opener at the Berglund Center in Roanoke on Friday (Oct. 15).

Chris Vella

The Rail Yard Dawgs played host to the Fayetteville Marksmen, dropping a 4-1 decision in its only game of the opening weekend.

Vella, a native of Rochester, NY played four seasons (2013-14 to 2016-17) with the Ducks, wearing the ‘C’ in the final two, including the team’s USP3HL National Championship campaign.

Vella appeared in 128 games with the Ducks, collecting 56 goals and 103 points, good enough for sixth overall on the all time list that now includes 249 names. He came to the Wisconsin Dells as a 16-year-old rookie who patiently waited for his chance to shine. He barely played until after Christmas that first season, but once Head Coach Bill Zaniboni put his name on the game day roster, Vella made sure he had no reason to ever remove it.

The rookie became the veteran with the Ducks and when he aged out, he took the next step, playing NCAA Division 3 hockey with Morrisville State College for another four seasons, adding another 60-games to his total, the final two unfortunately shortened due to the restrictions of the pandemic.

Vella didn’t collect a point or a penalty in the first game with the Rail Dawgs, but watch for him to become a regular contributor beginning with the team’s next match, a do-over with the same Fayetteville Marksmen Friday at 7:05.

Anyone that has HockeyTV will be happy to know that SPHL pro games are also included on that site.

Thank you to Christine Vella for providing the photos for this story.

Bright spots on a rough weekend for Ducks

By Jim den Hollander  

Editor/Publisher 

Saukhockey.info 

It was another tough lesson for the Dells Ducks against another of the division’s top teams this past weekend as the team absorbed a pair of tough defeats. 

After dropping a 9-3 decision on Saturday night at the Lake Delton Ice Arena against the Minnesota Blue Ox on Saturday night, the same two teams returned Sunday for an afternoon matinee contest, the Blue Ox going home happy with a 6-1 win.  

The Blue Ox outshot the Ducks 67-22 on Sunday but that was a slight improvement in both shots for and against for the Ducks over the previous night’s numbers.  

It might be hard to hear once again, but this is a Ducks team in a developing stage. The team has more 18 and young aged players and finds itself once again with Justin Green as the lone 20-year-old. The Ducks have a majority of players 18 and under.

The losses dropped the Ducks to 1-7 on the season so far which is one-win better than last season at this point and while the overall results have been rough, there some brightly shining diamonds in the rough so far as well.  

Caden Glamkowski, an ‘04 from St. Charles, IL scored three times on the weekend and he continues to lead the team with 13 points in eight games. Jayden Tkaczuk who has made it clear he wants to go after the team’s single season scoring record, played his first full weekend since the opening series and he was in on all three goals the first night. He has seven points in four games played and gives the two teams two lines that can score. Jacobsen has racked up 11 points, two more than he collected in more than 20 games played last season. Jacob Cartland has a share of the goal scoring lead for the team with six goals and nine points. 

The weekend series brought an end a set of eight straight games on home ice to open the regular season. The Ducks will make its first road trip of the season Friday, playing at Augsburg University Ice Arena in the Twin Cities at 7:30 p.m. The Mullets are coached by Chris Walby, a long tenured coach who played as a youngster in Sauk Prairie. On Sunday the Ducks will stop off on the way home at Owatonna to meet the Steele County Blades at the Four Seasons Center.

This begins an extremely busy stretch for the Ducks as they follow up this weekend set with four games in three days at the Midwest-West Showcase Tournament at Fogerty Ice House, home of the Minnesota Moose in Blaine, MN, Oct. 28-30, then return home Nov. 5-7 for another three-game weekend. All totalled, that’s 10 games in two weeks. 

Duck Feathers – The Ducks welcomed a half dozen players on a temporary basis on the weekend. The next new player to suit up for the Ducks will be number 250 in team history. 

  • – Tkaczuk boosted his all-time points total with the Ducks to 12 goals and 26 points, moving him into a tie with Colton Maynard for 53rd spot on the Ducks list. He has a good shot at climbing inside the top 50 with another good weekend at Augsburg. He has also crossed the 120-minute mark in penalties and is on pace to become just the third player in team history to go over 200 minutes. 
  • The November 5-7 homestand will be th final homegames for the team in 2021. 

Moose provide tough lessons for Ducks

By Jim den Hollander  

Editor/Publisher 

Saukhockey.info 

A young team with few returners, the Ducks knew this season, or at least the first part, would be mostly about learning and improving.  

This past weekend the team endured a painful  lesson against a Minnesota Moose team no Ducks’ squad has yet been able to solve. Since joining the league in the 2017-18 season, the Ducks have defeated the Ducks 16-straight times and this past weekend they showed the local side what it takes to rule the Midwest-West Division.  

A brutally lopsided edge in shots helped the Moose wrap up an 8-0 shutout win in the opening game Saturday, following it up with a 13-2 decision Sunday afternoon, the second time in three sets of games the Ducks have surrendered 21 goals. 

Both games featured a stretch or moment where it seemed the game could turn but it ended up slipping further away.  

On Saturday night, the Ducks were outmatched, but managed to get a chance to pull close, when Caden Glamkowski got open behind the Moose defense and was hauled down. Awarded a penatly shot with the Ducks down just 2-0 into the second period, Simon Johnson in the Moose goal came up with a huge stop. 

The Moose added another goal later in the middl period and put this one away with five more in the third. Anthony Falzone, in goal for the Ducks did a standout job, kicking out 36 of 39 shots through those first two periods and the Moose took its shots total past 60 in the game, topping it by going north of 70 on Sunday. 

The Moose picked up where it left off Sunday, but once again a rough stretch in the middle period almost let the Ducks get even.  

Up 3-0, the Moose, who wore out a path to the penalty box in both games, found themselves down two skaters.  

The Ducks not only took advantage as Jake Cartland fired his sixth of the season with help from Jayden Tkaczuk and Bryce Jacobsen to make it a 3-1 game, the Ducks took it to the Moose with its best pressure of the weekend for the next few minutes. 

The Ducks pressure came to a sudden gut punch of a halt when Jared Topil carried the puck through the neutral zone and fired the fourth Moose goal. Emotional turn was hard on the Ducks who surrered another goal to Topil on the same shift and two more before the end of the second period.  

The other Ducks goal came from Tkaczuk who celebrated his return from a four-game suspension with a a goal and assist. Glamkowski and Jacobsen collected set ups on the goal.  

The Ducks had a day off to lick wounds and returned to the rink ready to prepare for another tough weekend against the Minnesota Blue Ox on Tuesday. The Blue Ox joined the Moose at the National championship tournament at the end of last season. After dropping some early games the Blue Ox come in hot after a sweep against the Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings on home ice this past weekend. 

Playing Moose a tough assignment for Ducks

By Jim den Hollander 

Editor/Publisher 

Saukhockey.info  

The Ducks are facing an opponent so tough in the Minnesota Moose, they added a week of preparation. 

A hockey team faces tests all through its season, but facing the Moose this weekend is on part with a Harvard entrance exam. 

The Moose have been among the toughest opponents for the Ducks since joining the USPHL at the beginning of the Fall of 2018. Actually, they don’t come any tougher. The Moose have compiled a perfect 14-0 record against the Ducks with 14 straight regulation defeats. 

Five of those losses came last year by a combined score of 49-5.  

A few Ducks players remember those (or at least some of those) contests well, but coming off a win in its series against the Cougars two weeks ago and a solid chemistry that has the team communicating better every time it steps on the ice, there is some genuine confidence heading into this weekend.  

The Moose have played three games so far this season and come into action this weekend sporting a 2-1 record. They were scheduled to play the Minnesota Mullets on home ice at Fogerty Ice Arena. 

Among the offensive leaders for the Moose heading into the weekend were captain Chase Solberg with seven points with Hunter Barto and Ike Frankel next at four points apiece.  

Those are some familiar names for the Ducks. Solberg collected 13 points against the Ducks last season including three goals and three assists in the first meeting of the season at the Midwest-West Showcase. 

Frankel also feasted on the Ducks with five goals and five assists, Barto adding a goal and four helpers.  

The Only current members of the Ducks to score against the Moose are Jayden Tkaczuk and Carter Lewis.  

However, the Ducks have put up some much better offensive numbers through the opening four games including nine points already from Caden Glamkowski (3g, 6a) while fellow rookie Jake Cartland (5g, 2a) and returner Bryce Jacobsen (2g, 5a) both have seven points through four games. That offense has been collected mostly without help from captain Jayden Tkaczuk who will be absent Friday, but returns to action Saturday hungry to get involved with his teammates on the score sheet.  

In goal, Luke Buza was selected as Goaltender of the Week at the end of September, the same week Cartland collected Top Forward honors. Buza has played all three games for the Moose so far and had a 3.00 Goals Against Average along with a .902 Save Percentage heading into play this weekend.  

For the Ducks, Anthony Falzone and Drew Mosely have split the work evenly. A dismal weekend for the entire team against the Rum River Mallards on the opening weekend left the goaltenders with some big statistical numbers. A week later through, both played again and both took a big chunk out of their Goals Against while raising their Save Percentages. Falzone collected his first junior win in goal and Mosely has looked good in both of his starts and is not far from joining Falzone in the win column. 

The task this weekend will be to play a disciplined game and take advantage of manpower advantages while limiting powerplay opportunties for the Moose, staying hot on defense while at the same time keeping up the steady improvement in its own end, limiting chances, especially rebounds for the Moose and transitioning quickly from defense to offense. 

Game time Saturday night is 7:30 p.m. with a quick turnaround for Sunday seeing teams back on the ice at 1:30 p.m.  

Glamkowski’s return a big plus for Ducks

By Jim den Hollander 

Editor/Publisher  

Saukhockey.info 

The Ducks are closing in on its first meetings with the always tough Minnesota Moose with some cautious optimism.  

Early in the pre-season and into the opening pair of games against the Rum River Mallards, on-ice communication was slowly developing, but the team looked sharp in spots against the Chicago Cougars two weekends ago.  

Dells Ducks

After their second practice of the day Wednesday afternoon at the Lake Delton Ice Arena, Head Coach Shaun Falzone and forward Bryce Jacobsen, one of the few Ducks players who has faced the Moose before, discussed what is going on with the team heading into a tough weekend. 

Falzone had good news in his interview announcing the return to practice of Caden Glamkowski who has been sidelined for a while and the addition of ’01 forward Alex Hertlein, picked up from the Chicago Cougars.

First break in busy schedule for Dells Ducks

By Jim den Hollander

Saukhockey.info

Editor/Publisher

With four games behind them (1-3-0), the Dells Ducks head into its first off weekend of the regular season.

Dells Ducks

While the team will continue twice-a-day practices at the Lake Delton Ice Arena, the carrot of Friday/Saturday games on the horizon will be removed for this week, but Assistant Coach Mario Lachica the team is working hard with ‘flow drills’ run at game tempo to improve on timing and communication.

This past weekend was a busy one for the Ducks who not only wrapped up a stretch of eight games in two weeks but also adhered to a busy off ice schedule that included heading to Bobber’s Island Grill Thursday to check out former Dells Ducks forward Colin Cross, now a Nashville-based country-western artist in town on a short Midwest tour, promoting and selling tickets for a local outlet mall that had an open house type event Saturday and finally, attending the final day of a big championship points weekend at Dells Raceway Park on Sunday.

Colin Cross in the middle of back row, took a minute away from his four-hour show at Bobber’s last Thursday (September 23) to stand with his new Dells Ducks brothers. In front are Cross’ bandmates Tim Angsten (left) and Mac Watts on the right.

Monday seemed like a break despite a pair of practices.