Students are likely not pleased but the summer break is nearly over for athletes.
After what seemed to be the busiest summer yet for varsity hockey players, a majority of them will be heading to football fields, soccer pitches, volleyball or tennis courts, pools, golf courses or cross-country running courses for the next few months.
Football practices begin Tuesday while boys’ soccer, girl’s tennis, golf, volleyball, swimming, and cross country for both kicks off a week or two later, depending on the team.
Unofficial captains’ practices for hockey players will likely begin in early September as the ice will be in the Lake Delton Ice Arena by then and SPARC in Prairie du Sac will have floor hockey sessions.
Official first practices for the varsity hockey programs will begin on Nov. 8.
The RWD regular season is scheduled to begin once again against the Wisconsin Rapids Red Raiders, this time around at the South Wood County Recreation Center on Nov. 23. Sauk Prairie Eagles will face Onalaska Hilltoppers in its first of two home games to kick off the season on the same night.
Baraboo/Portage Thunderbirds will faceoff on home ice against the Menomonie Mustangs Dec. 1.
There hasn’t been any official information released yet, but the three Sauk County varsity teams will be in a slightly different conference. Gone are the Waunakee Warriors, Beaver Dam Golden Beavers and DeForest Norskies, replaced by the Madison Edgewood Crusaders, Oregon Panthers and Monroe Cheesemakers.
The Badger Lightning schedule is not available as of today (July 27).
The Dells Ducks will be on the ice a little earlier, beginning with a tryout camp in Crystal Lake, Ill. Aug. 6-8.
Players will arrive in town in late August, the players will begin with a week of dryland training and then hit the ice. The team will head to Motown for a weekend of exhibition matches against the Detroit Fighting Irish and Motor City Hockey Team Sept. 10-12.
The following weekend, the Ducks will open the USPHL Premier Midwest-West regular season with games Sept. 17-18 against the Rum River Mallards from Isanti, Minn.
Locals at colleges will begin soon after.
After COVID all but wiped out seasons for a trio of locals last year, they will be looking forward to finally playing a regular NCAA Division 3 campaign this fall.
Kaylee Engel from Lavalle, captain of the 2019-20 Badger Lightning varsity team, will begin her sophomore season with the Northland College Lumberjills while, Jordan O’Connor, a 21-game winner in her senior season with the Sauk Prairie Eagles, will also be back for her second year between the pipes for the UW-River Falls Falcons while Julianna Teske, a Reedsburg resident will begin her sophomore season with the Augsburg Auggies. Regular seasons will begin in late October for all three players.
Former Baraboo/Portage captain, Jack MacDonald will begin his freshman season with the St. Michael’s College Purple Knights in the Northeast-10 Conference. The Purple Knights play out of Colchester Vermont and that season is also scheduled to begin in late-October.
Before you know it, full time hockey will be upon us again.
Part three of my four-part summer project (It will turn into 8-12 parts, I believe) wrapped up on the weekend as I finally wrapped up tabulating the games for the Sauk Prairie Eagles beginning with the 2010-11 season.
Again, I must give thanks and praise to www.wisconsinprephockey.net for having game sheets and statistics’ dating back that far. In the case of the Eagles, it goes back a season or two further, but I started at the 2010-11 season to keep it level with the RWD and Baraboo/Portage programs which started that season.
The Eagles have an interesting modern history which saw the team start out the 11-season stretch as a solid mid to high pack squad, led by players like Luke McElhenie who played just three seasons with the Eagles, compiling a total of 80 goals and 80 assists with just 42 PIM.
That was followed by some extremely lean seasons, from 2013-14 to 2015-16 that saw the club endure an overall record of 12-58-0.
The team turned a corner in 2016-17 which coincided with the arrival of David Lohrei as Head Coach. Lohrei, with mentoring experience at the highest junior levels as well as stints in the pros, has put together a 71-30-6 mark so far, highlighted in 2019-20 when a tough 3-2 loss in the regular season finale against Middleton prevented the team from posting 20 regular season victories – a rare feat.
Ironically, the team has posted 20 regular season defeats, in the 2014-15 season with a tough 3-21-0 run through that campaign.
The Eagles longest winning streak is nine games which were the first nine games of the 2020-21 campaign, a shortened season that saw the Eagles entering the playoffs with a 12-1 record. The teams longest losing streak is 15 games, from Dec. 12, 2014, to Feb. 5, 2015.
McElhenie had a solid supporting cast two with names like Travis Jacobson, Jacob Free, Dayne Leonard and others that were regular scoring contributors. McElhenie went on to play USHL hockey in Madison and in three seasons at UW-Stevens Point he helped the team to both WIAC and National D3 Championship in 2018-19. Look in this space for story and interview with McElhenie in the next week.
McElhenie held the team’s points lead until Riley Jelinek who led the entire state in scoring in both 2018-19 and 2019-20 compiled a massive run of 92 goals and 148 assists for 240 points in 89 games. Linemate Camden Desroches also moved past McElhenie with 94 goals and 87 assists for 181 points in 91 games.
It’s hard to imagine anyone coming close to Jelinek’s total but 2022 senior Nick Mast will factor in as he enters his final varsity season with 58 goals and 68 assists for 126 points in 60 games. Rounding out the top five for the Eagles at this point is Jacob Free with 34 goals and 57 assists for 91 points in 60 games.
Luke Mast is not far off the pace, the incoming junior already compiling 26 goals and 33 assists for 59 points in 37 games while Hakon Peterson, an incoming senior sits at 16 goals and 41 assists for 57 points in 60 games.
The top point getters also lead both goals and assists while the team’s highest Penalty minutes total goes to Cam Gesicki with 129. The only player over 100 minutes in his career is Ryan Fitzsimmons at 108.
In goal, Dakota Pickhard leads in games (it appears having a name on the game sheet is classed as a game played which is a little unusual for goaltenders) with 83 and he also has the most minutes played – 3,019:12. Pickhard bridged the Dark Ages era and the Revival era, facing 1,737 shots in that period and beaten 184 times. He lowered his Goals Against Average each season after that tough opening year, ending up with a 3.11 GAA and Save Percentage of .894.
In Wisconsin High School games, it appears a Save Percentage over .900 is rare and only one Eagles’ goaltender with at least 10 games played have hit that mark.
Stephen Schultz was the team’s workhorse in the first few seasons, compiling a record of 22-16-3 with 2,089:26 minutes played, which converts to 40.97 games. He stopped 1,141 of 1,226 shots for a 3.15 GAA and a SP% of .901.
Jordan O’Connor played all 1,239:15 minutes of the 2019-20 season, compiling an awesome 19-4-1 record. She put up a goose egg in five games and kicked out 311 of 347 shots for a 1.48 GAA and a SP% of .899.
Schultz leads the goaltenders in shutouts with nine and Pickhard blanked the opposition a half dozen times.
Saukhockey.info will wrap up the varsity summer project with the Badger Lightning. I am not 100 percent sure when the schools all combined to form Badger Lightning, but we will use the 2010-11 season as the start point for this as well.
Soon after, stats from the first decade of Dells Ducks will be highlighted.
The summer project – compiling stats on all four Sauk County varsity hockey teams passed the halfway mark with the completion of Baraboo/Portage.
Technically, while this project will put together the overall records, records vs. every team and player stats since the 2010-11 season, it will be ongoing into the season in November putting together conference records, total goals for and against then some single season records.
Once again, I thank and credit www.wisconsinprephockey.net which has been my source for all the statistical information. The stats on that website go back a bit further than 2010-11, but that seems like a perfect starting point as that was when the current RWD and Baraboo/Portage outfits were formed. I am using that as the starting point for Sauk Prairie and the Badger Lightning as well simply to make everything uniform.
Here are some of the interesting tidbits gathered on the Baraboo/Portage squad:
The team’s overall record in that span is 123-113-11. After six straight seasons, north of .500, topping at 16-5 in 2013-14, the Thunderbirds have been sub .500 for the past five straight, but current head coach, David Clark was close, a season ending tie in the spring of 2020 wrapping up an 11-12-1 campaign.
Clark and his assistants are a positive influence on the players and show a great deal of loyalty to the players, in particular starting goaltenders such as Dane Hinz who played every one of the 1250+ minutes that season in the blue paint for the team in that 19-20 season.
Clark’s overall record with the team is 33-52-1.
The team’s top overall scorer since 2010-11 is Tyler Laux with 40 goals and 124 points in 60 games played. Just four points back with 52 goals and 120 points is Steven Mordini and Dawson Hinz rounds out the top three with 58 goals and 113 points and 2021 graduate Campbell Koseor sits fourth overall with 48 goals and 103 points.
Leading goal scorer is Adam Stanton who notched 61 goals in 64 games, and he also rounds out the top five overall with 101 points. The 84 assists for the Laux is the most by 16 ahead of Mordini.
Penalty minutes leader to date is Mordini with 161, nine more than Joe Zemanovic and Stanton picked up 132 minutes in the box.
In goal, a trio of stoppers combine to lead in different categories. Sean McCutchin collected the most wins with 27, one more than Nate Heckendorf and four more than Dane Hinz who leads minutes played with 3,146.52, more than 400 more minutes and second ranked Heckendorf.
Hinz also leads with the most losses, at 36, the most shots against with 1,986 and saves with 1,760. Nate Godemann played just 436:45 but they were quality minutes as he posted a record of 7-0-0 and a team best 2.57 Goals Against Average. Best Save Percentage among players with at least 100 minutes was Heckendorf at .895 and his eight shutouts is also a team best.
Hopefully in the next few weeks, I will have a few paragraphs on the Sauk Prairie Eagles and Badger Lightning and then double back for conference winners and records and all-time goals for and against.
For most of the past couple years, my own primary focus has been on hockey – whether with the Ducks where I help as part of the management team, or local varsity and youth levels which are the bread and butter for Saukhockey.info.
Most probably don’t know this about me, but I am an Olympics fanatic. Since I was young, I was glued to the television during the Olympics, watching sports that I would normally flip the channel on as if it was for the Stanley Cup.
This summer, I find myself in a position of being able to watch all of the Olympics this summer and by the time it ends in the middle of August, it will practically be hockey season once again. I have already gotten through a warm-up spending time watching US Olympic trials for swimming, track and field and gymnastics in the past few weeks.
I grew up cheering for the Maple Leaf and I still have a place in my heart for Canada but getting a look at the American athletes and the great stories behind so many of them, I am excited to see the ones that earned the right to make the trip next month in Tokyo.
How much of an Olympic nerd have I can become. Well, I can tell you, almost like an expert, the top weightlifters in the world generally come from Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries, if you want to learn from the best cross-country skiers, you should head to Norway, want to learn to be an Olympic archery medalist – make the trip to South Korea. Cycling or Speed Skating – Netherlands…and the list goes on.
The neat thing about the Tokyo games is the schedule is so busy, there are some sports kicking off before the Opening Ceremonies. So if you are antsy for some softball or football (soccer) and you happen to be up at 2 a.m., you are in luck.
That works out great for me as I generally find the Opening Ceremonies mostly boring, way too long and just difficult to sit through.
Softball and football will begin playing their respective pool play games on July 21 and even on the 23rd, archery and rowing will be a great alternative to a bunch of dancers and flag wavers giving you some crazy history of Japan that the announcer must explain.
The craziness of the past year saw the Olympics pushed for a year and because of that, an Olympic fan like myself will get a chance to watch two Olympics in less than 12 months as the Beijing Winter Olympics will begin on February 2.
As a hockey fan, I generally favor the winter games and I don’t consider myself very political, but because of a certain event between Canada and China, I am not in favor of our participation.
Closing in on the halfway mark of compiling statistics on all four Sauk County varsity hockey teams, it seems a good time to tease some of what has come together.
RWD was the first to be complete as far as regular season team and game stats and Baraboo/Portage should be done in the next week. Sauk Prairie Eagles and Badger Lightning will follow in July. Then season by season conference standings and post season stats.
The primary purpose of doing these is to have some interesting background information for pre-game and post-game write ups, but here is some of the interesting things I have come up with.
Please note – I owe a great deal of thanks to wisconsinprephockey.net. Simply put, that is my source for information with almost all game sheets available dating back more than a decade. For RWD and Baraboo/Portage, I have compiled stats going back to 2010-11 when the two teams were formed. Before that, all four teams – Reedsburg, Baraboo, Wisconsin Dells/Mauston and Sauk Prairie ran their own teams and for a few seasons Reedsburg and Baraboo were combined.
In 2010-11, the RWD coalition (with Mauston) was formed as was the Baraboo/Portage squad. Sauk Prairie might go back a little further and I believe the Lightning, a marriage of Baraboo and the Freeze, out of Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells was formed around the same time.
Since the RWD squad was formed, it has compiled a record of 152-88-13. The team has posted only three sub-.500 seasons. In 2014-15, the team compiled its most regular season wins with a 19-3-2 record including 16-straight regular season wins, beginning with a three-run sweep at the annual Monk’s Cheeseburger Classic and lasting to the end of the season, the only non-win a 1-1 draw with Baraboo/Portage.
The Cheavers added three more playoff wins to reach the State Championship quarter-finals.
The longest losing skid for the team was four games, on three different occasions.
The surprising thing so far for both RWD and Baraboo/Portage is the number of ties. It would seem rare for a team to play through eight minutes of overtime without settling a draw, but RWD has just three seasons, including 2020-21 without at least one draw.
To the surprise of nobody, the team’s leading scorer through that stretch is Dylan Brown with 67 goals and 97 assists for 164 points in 60 games, an impressive total for a player who missed most of his junior season.
Derek Pawlak is next on the list and the all time leading goal scorer with 70 goals and 122 points in 71 games. One of the originals, Luke Bjorklund is third highest with 57 goals and 112 points despite playing just two seasons and 46 games under the RWD co-op.
Rounding out the top five is a tie between Jordan Bill (49-58 – 107) and Jordan Brown (47-60 –107). 2021 senior Danny Ely (44-58—102) is so far the only other player to top the 100-point plateau.
Jonathan Zobel leads the team in penalty minutes with 134, just four more than Austin Schyvinck and Zach Clisch was two more minors behind.
In goal, Cooper Oakes already owns most of the high marks, with 34 wins, 1,703 shots, 1,538 saves and nine shutouts, including his first game in goal for the Cheavers, a 5-0 goose egg at Wisconsin Rapids Nov. 20, 2018.
Oakes is still chasing, but will catch early in the season, the total minutes, (24:66.05) currently held by Tyler Arneson. Oakes should nab that mark in the second game of the season.
A couple of players with less than two full games of varsity – Logan Sullivan (.952) and Gary Wiles (.938) hold the best save percentage. Among the regulars, Shane Moilanen posted a .930 Save Percentage with three shutouts in 2010-11 and Dylan Stein was .916.
Among the single season highlights in goal was an awesome six-shutout season for Stein in 2016-17.
That’s an example of the stats saukhockey.info will be able to regurgitate through the regular season. Add to that the team’s record against every team it has played in that 11-year stretch and scorers from each game.
Hopefully it adds a little color to the upcoming season.
A pair of local talented hockey players – Incoming RWD junior Caden Brandt and Carson Zick who will be a sophomore for Baraboo/Portage Thunderbirds in 2021-22 took part in the high caliber NAHL Prospects Challenge tournament this past weekend, suiting up for the 15U Janesville Jets.
The event brought together a dozen teams, all under the umbrellas of North American Hockey League teams.
The team put together a 2-1 record in round robin matches and advanced through the Playoff quarterfinals before falling in the semis to the eventual tournament champs.
All games were played at the National Sports Center Super Rinks in Blaine, Minn., Friday May 29 – Sun day May 31.
Janesville Jets 3 Austin Bruins 4
The Jets trailed 3-0 early in the second period but rallied for three goals in the frame to knot the score at 3-3 heading to the final session.
Unfortunately, the only goal in the final period put the Bruins in front again with 8:20 to play in the contest.
David Emerich (‘06/Waunakee) scored twice for the Jets, sandwiching a goal for Grant Halmstad (‘05/Wausau).
Janesville Jets 3 Chippewa Steel 0
A goal in each period and a shutout effort in goal for Grenier Mason (‘05/Milwaukee) evened the Jets’ record.
Halmstad, Joseph Gerbitz (‘05/Green Bay) and David Dina (‘05/Verona) scored the Jets goals in this one, wrapping up play Friday.
Janesville Jets 2 Odessa Jackalopes 1 (so)
This defensive struggle didn’t see a goal until the Texas-based Jackalopes found the mesh early in the second period.
Brandt (‘05/LaValle) set up Will Rotar (‘05/Stoughton) about four minutes later to pull the Jets even and that’s the way it stayed through regulation and overtime.
In the shootout Rotar and Emerich both scored to lift the Jets to a win clinching a spot in the playoff quarter-finals.
Janesville Jets 6 Springfield Jr. Blues 1
The Jets’ collected its most decisive win later Saturday turning a 1-0 first period lead into a 4-1 middle stanza cushion and adding two more unanswered down the stretch.
Brandt led the charge scoring twice for the Jets and Zick (‘05/Baraboo) added a third period assist to help the cause. Other Jets’ goals came from Gerbitz, Emerich, Reid Post (Chippewa Falls) and Lars Brotzman (‘05/Verona).
Janesville Jets 1 New Mexico Ice Wolves 4
Just four teams returned Sunday for tournament semi-finals including three from the Jets’ round robin Division.
While the Jets squared off with the Ice Wolves, Chippewa Falls and the Jackalopes squared off in the other semi.
Brandt fire his team’s only goal, tying the game at 1-1 late in the second period, but the Ice Wolves recaptured the lead 51 seconds later with the game winning tally.
The Ice Wolves went on to claim the tournament championship with a 6-1 win against the Chippewa Steel.
Chris Walby, Head Coach of the Minnesota Mullets is originally from the Sauk Prairie/Lodi area and part of one of the original hockey families.
Now 46, Walby played his junior hockey with the Wisconsin Capitols in the USHL and played a few seasons of junior in British Columbia before ultimately turning his focus onto the other side of the bench.
He coached the Middleton Cardinals to a host of conference titles and some state championship tournament berths before stepping behind the bench of the Minnesota Iron Rangers of the Superior International Junior Hockey League, a team he coached for three seasons and ultimately purchased.
He purchased the Forest Lake (formerly Edina) Lakers in 2016 and renamed the team the Minnesota Mullets the following season. Along with the ownership responsibilities, Walby has been the team’s general manager and coach for the past six seasons as well.
Walby agreed to take part in an email question-answer type interview with Saukhockey.info earlier this week.
Saukhockey.info: I moved here in 2000 and despite the popularity of the Badgers and such, I felt like hockey in Wisconsin was at least a generation behind the hockey states like Minnesota, just in terms of general interest at that time. What are your memories of being a youngster, involved in hockey in Wisconsin?
Chris Walby: I grew up on a horse farm set on 32 acres in between Sauk City and Lodi, long before Sauk City and Prairie du Sac built their rink. We were forced to play all our youth hockey in Middleton and for the Madison West Flyers. I have three brothers who also played, so my parents were busy carting us around to the rink.
My Gramma and Grandpa were the reason we got involved in hockey. They had Badger Hockey season tickets and took my brothers and I to our first hockey game. We got hooked quick. We loved the Badgers. When we played pick-up games on our pond or in our garage, we’d argue about who got to pretend to be Mark Johnson, John Newberry, Bruce Driver, Chris Chelios, and we always made our youngest brother play as Marc Behrend in net. I’ve got great memories from those days in the Coliseum.
SH: You started coaching the Cardinals a few years after I arrived here it appears. I remember varsity hockey for WDHS at that time was pretty much a club team. Middleton is a great sports town. Was the hockey program always stronger or was it tough getting players from the wrestling and/or basketball teams?
CW: I played for the Cardinals and graduated from Middleton High School in ‘94. I went on to play junior hockey and then settled in Milwaukee for a few years. When I moved back to Middleton, I was invited to join the staff at Middleton by the Libert brothers who were still the Co-Head Coaches. I was their first captain as they were my coaches during my senior year and their first year at the helm.
My Middleton high school teams were good when I played, but the program had a rough stretch for a few years just before I got there. The Liberts added me and another alumnus in Derek Ward and we quickly turned it around.
We ended up going to “State” the first year myself, Derek Ward, Steve, and Tony Libert combined as a staff. We had a great run together. In nine seasons we made three state tournament appearances and won several Big 8 Titles together.
I credit all three of those coaches as the biggest influences in my coaching career. My final season at Middleton finished with a 5 – 1 loss in the “State” finals against Pete Susens and tough Wausau West team. It took Pete 30 years to win that title and I remember thinking, ‘I don’t have 30 years to chase this’ and I moved on.
What I miss most about coaching high school hockey are the big games and big game environments. The crowds at Cardinal games were awesome. We built quite the program so the students came out in full force.
The Sectional Semi Final and Final games were amazing. We played with full capacity crowds at Cap Ice, Madison Ice Arena and Verona several times. Obviously, I remember the moments during and following the big wins, but some of my fondest memories were lessons taught during tough losses. For example, we went to six overtimes in the 2006 “State” tournament and lost, but it may be one of my favorite hockey memories of all time.
We had a great blend of characters on that team, and it was amazing how they gave everything they had in that game for each other. It was an amazing experience to watch. Sometimes I find myself being more of a cheerleader than a coach and that was one of those times. Time after time, each kid came back to the bench with a look in their eye that said, “I’m doing my best, Coach!” I’ll never forget that game and my time at Middleton.
SH: Your brother Steffon had a great playing (including 289 points in seven seasons in the AHL) and now coaching career (including an SPHL crown won in the spring of 2011 with the Mississippi Surge with regular goaltender Bill Zaniboni). Was he a big influence on you in the sport?
CW: Also, at the top of the list of my biggest influences as a coach and player, is my big brother Steffon.
As a player, I had huge skates to fill because he was awesome. Growing up, I was his biggest fan. If there was a big goal, he’d score it. I’m not kidding either. All throughout his career, when the game was on the line, nine times out of 10 my brother would get the game winner.
I learned a lot just by watching him both as a player and as a coach. As a coach, his demeanor is calm and collected. Regardless of the score. He’s always positive when correcting a mistake or encouraging his guys on during a game. I’m the same, but I’m a lot rowdier on the bench at times than he is.
He’s passed a lot of knowledge on to me about defensive zone coverage, offensive zone attacks, effective ways to improve special teams and how to run game day operations. He’s coached at basically every level now, so I’ve still got a lot more to learn from him.
SH: How did you first connect with the Iron Rangers? Was the move to juniors something you had been thinking about for a while? Can you talk a bit about life in the SIJHL? I have never lived in that part of Ontario but think those long bus rides in the dead of winter must be the longest and perhaps most excruciating in junior. Also, if you thought the rivalry between Middleton and Verona was strong, it must have been so fun as an American coach in Northwestern Ontario?
CW: During the summer of 2012, I was sitting at a Brewer game when I received a text from Sean Storie, a coaching buddy from Superior, Wisconsin. It said, “I think I just got you a Junior A coaching job if you want it.” Ever since my own junior career, I have always said that someday I’m going to run my own junior program.
So, I quickly replied, “Where?” Sean responded, “Iron Range.” I had no clue where that even was.
The owner of the Iron Range Ironheads of the Superior International Junior Hockey League called me the next day and offered me the job over the phone. I told him I had no clue what the Iron Range was and had never heard of his team before. He said they were a second-year team, they weren’t going to renew the current head coach’s contract and they were looking for a new coach to take over and relocate the team 50 miles from Chisolm, Minnesota to Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota.
I told him I’d jump into my car first thing in the morning and meet him in Hoyt Lakes. It’s about a nine-hour drive from Middleton to Hoyt Lakes and I was totally blown away by how beautiful the Iron Range was in the middle of June.
I’ll never forget my first Impression of Hoyt Lakes. You take HWY 4 north out of Duluth for an hour and twenty minutes. All you see during that stretch of highway are beautiful lakes, tall pine tree forests and what seemed like a thousand deer.
There is one major road that runs through town, and it takes less than two minutes to get from one end to the other. If you were to stay on that same road, all you see for an hour is the Superior International Forest State Park before you stumble onto Silver Bay, Minnesota, and HWY 61. It’s incredible. It’s also the only way to Thunder Bay so I ended up getting familiar with the view and have a deep appreciation for the area which is also called the Sawtooth Mountain Range.
The first thing you see as you enter Hoyt Lakes is a welcome sign. The second thing you see is the Hoyt Lakes Ice Arena. I loved that part. It instantly made me feel like the rink was the town’s major focal point. Waiting out in front of the rink was its manager, Wayde West and hockey enthusiast, Francine Bonach. They gave me a tour of the rink, our locker room, the gymnasium and what ultimately sold me on the place, a full-size restaurant quality kitchen they used for weddings, banquets, etc. Wayde and Francine told me all of it was ours to use and for whatever I wanted to use it for. The move just felt right. I had everything I needed to build a team and to build NCAA hockey players.
Playing in the SIJHL was tough. It’s a Canadian league and with the exception of two years, we were the only American team in the league. The league was made up of teams in the Northwest Ontario towns of Thunder Bay, Fort Frances, Dryden, Ear Falls and then us, the upstart Minnesota Iron Rangers.
Hoyt Lakes is two hours from the Canadian border and once we would cross the border it felt as if it was us against them. The biggest example of this was a heartbreaking blown offsides call that led to our demise in Game 7 of the SIJHL Championship.
Regardless, the community and I ended up buying the team from the original owner, we built a winning franchise, filled our home arena, and brought something special to a community that needed us just as much as we needed them. It changed all our lives.
In the end, I brought dozens of Wisconsinites with me to the “Range” and ended up placing over 30 players into the NCAA. It was a special and unforgettable time for all of us.
SH: When the Ducks first joined the Minnesota League, I had never heard of Edina. Of course, now I realize Edina and Maple Grove might be two of the greatest hockey towns in the USA. The Lakers/Mullets are a team with a solid history in the Twin Cities area. Is that part of what made you interested in the team?
CW: I’m forever a Wisconsin guy, but I have absolutely fallen in love with the hockey culture in Minnesota and specifically in the Twin Cities. We have a unique set up here for junior hockey. We play out of Augsburg University Ice Arena and are in the heart of Minneapolis. We are less than a mile from where the Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Gophers play and several Minneapolis parks and landmarks.
We have a state-of-the-art gym, rink and an incredible coaching and game day staff. Logistically, we have five NCAA schools here in town and over a dozen more within three hours from here. These are the things I’ve always wanted in building a program. We have everything a player needs to develop on and off the ice and into the NCAA.
SH: Junior hockey teams — successful ones at least, always have a ‘family’ feel. Your bond with the players you coached is obvious and I think you might have more returners each season than most teams as a result. What do you specifically look for in players wanting to play for the Mullets?
CW: I look for players with high quality character. Good kids mostly from good families.
I think team chemistry is the most important factor in building a successful team and program. I try to fill the locker room each year with those types. It always leads to a tight locker room and players build lifelong bonds and relationships with each other. I feel that type of relationship between players make them compete so much harder and they do it for each other.
Those type of kids also make my job feel extra rewarding. They appreciate what we do here and what they’re given.
I truly care for our players and want them to reach their full potential. Nothing makes me smile more than when they have success and achieve their goals. I think they know that. The best phone call in the world is the call I get when a player has accepted an offer to play college hockey.
We get these players at a time where they can set the table for the rest of their lives and our guys are doing great. What we try to teach here goes beyond hockey. We want good players to turn into good husbands, fathers, and members in their communities. The longer I coach, the more I see that come to fruition.
SH: You, like Coach Falzone, seem to relish a chance to wear a lot of hats. You don’t appear to delegate much, preferring to look after most of the day-to-day stuff yourself. Does the paperwork and stuff that goes with being an owner/gm, take any time away from being a coach or have you found a good way to make it work?
CW: I’ve found a way to successfully make it work. True, I do wear a lot of hats and I’m involved in every aspect of running a junior hockey team, but I’ve also surrounded myself with several great people in part time roles that are key players in day-to-day operations.
I had my first full time assistant coach this past season and it was awesome. Max Seiter from Steven’s Point. He’s a former player of mine from the Range and went on to study Physical Therapy at NCAA Finlandia in the U.P.
Coach Max was great. Knocked it out of the park in his first year of coaching. He made the biggest impact in the gym. He knows his stuff and the guys could see it and bought in from the start.
Marty Sertich joined our staff this past season. Marty had an incredible career in the NHL and was a Hobey Baker winner at Colorado College. He’s from here and helps with the University St. Thomas women’s program as well.
Coach Marty would come in one or two times a week to lead our skill practices. He’s still in incredible shape and would run the kids through edge work drills and a series of drills focused on passing, shooting, and getting “touches” in each week. The boys loved him.
Coach Tom Strelow is also still involved. He’s been a great mentor for our players and for me as a coach. Tom also serves as an assistant for Minnesota high school state champion Mahtomedi High School and is a billet father each year for several of our boys.
I’m also blessed with a great game day staff (HP, Nicki, Kels, Zoa, Kate, Roy, and Dan) that run our home games and travel with us for several road games. They’ve filled in several times when road teams were short a trainer or a broadcast guy and our equipment manager isn’t shy about sharpening an opposing team’s skate.
The toughest part about running a team is putting the team together. Several owner, coaches, and GM’s struggle at it. I don’t have the budget to run all over the country to scout and who wants to be away from their family that often?”
I’m lucky to have an amazing network of friends in hockey. I’m very thankful and grateful for them. A majority of my roster each season is built on referrals from people in hockey that I’ve met along the way and know we can provide a great place to play from some kind of an experience we’ve shared over the years.
I’ve always believed that if you treat someone well, they’ll always stick with you. I can say that my vets typically feel that way and if they don’t, that’s ok. Where can we move you to where you’re happy?
In the end, each locker room is the same each year. We’ve all had a blast and it’s a season they will never forget.
SH: How often do you get back to this area? Is it still special for you walking into Cap Ice or any of the other rinks in this area?
CW: I get back often. I had a special experience this past year during Covid and when our rinks shutdown in Minnesota. I let the boys go home for a week at Thanksgiving and when they came back, we moved operations and we all met at the Sauk Prairie Area Recreation Center (SPARC).
It was awesome and kind of a dream come true for me. It was a feeling of my life in hockey kind of coming full circle. I loved having the team on my real home turf. I introduced several to Culver’s, Piggly Wiggly, Devils Lake and the Dells.
The staff at Sauk’s arena was awesome to us and the venue worked perfect for our needs. Dave Jolicoeur has a great crew there and was great to work with.
We skated out of Sauk City’s rink for two weeks. We played four games and practiced there before moving on to our Chicago Showcase just before Christmas.
It was a special trip. One that I will never forget. The boys thought we were going to be forced to shut down for weeks and we didn’t. We made it through. They sincerely appreciated it and we grew together as a team at such a crucial time.
June 1 is probably about as far from the hockey seaon that you can get in Sauk County.
If local arenas are being used at all it is for indoor activities, likely related to fairs and carnivals…at least in Reedsburg.
For Saukhockey.info, hockey will still be included with a couple projects and some looks back.
Over the past month and with the great assistance of statistics kept on wisconsinprephockey.net, I have begun compiling some all time statistics.
I wrapped up the first part for RWD — tracing results from every game and compiling points and penalty minutes for every player that suited up for the Cheavers, since the start of the Reedsburg-Wisconsin Dells-Mauston Co-operative effort in 2010-11.
Currently I am working on the same for Baraboo/Portage and over the month I will continue with the Sauk Prairie Eagles and Badger Lightning.
I have something similar for the Dells Ducks, but need to add the 2020-21 stats to it. I will do a brief look at the overall stats when I complete each team, but the primary purpose of this is background information which will come in handy everytime RWD, Baraboo/Portage or Sauk Prairie Eagles come up against each other.
I am going to go back and do conference histories and Playoff histories for each team over the course of the summer.
The RWD hockey team has some summertime activity planned including something next weekend which will keep them in the headlines. I am trying to find out more about the other teams as well.
Also, I want to go back and do season reviews on each team as well as the junior Ducks and also take a look a the short freshman college seasons for Jordan O’Connor, goaltender at UW-Superior Yellow Jackets and Kaylee Engel from the Northland College Lumberjills in the WIAC along with Julianna Teske of the Augsburg Auggies in the MIAC.
I have been wanting to do either a weekly video show or podcast and plan to set it up with something once a month or more frequently if I have material, in the off season months and then weekly starting in September.
Other stories will surely come up each week during the summer months. If anyone knows of something coming up related to hockey, I would be glad to include coverage of it. I can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org or text 608-393-2876.
Also, still looking for someone that might be interested in helping with this website/facebook page and a possible partnership. I would really like to find someone that is adept, or at least interested in advertising and hopefully, website design.
By Jim den Hollander Editor/Publisher Saukhockey.info
It is surprising how long the hockey season is, even at the local level.
This has been a crazy couple years for everything and as hockey fans, we have gone from not being able to watch our heroes on television to seasons ending at crazy times. We should be halfway through the opening round of the opening round of the post season – at least in a normal year we would be. Instead, we are about a month from the start of a post season that will carry us into July.
If the 2021-22 regular season begins on a normal schedule, the teams playing in the Stanley Cup will have 5-6 weeks off before returning for training camps for what will be another long season with a break in February 2022 for the Winter Olympics which NHL players will be participating in.
Locally, the final event was Ice Wars, a unique event at Lake Delton Ice Arena that brought together players from across the Midwest as well as a solid contingent of locals.
Aaron Kirby, owner of Lake Delton Ice was the organizer of the event that saw individuals at the squirt and peewee level signing up. However, several others have continued playing, with the Blue Devils AAA squad, out of Tomah, the Wisconsin Junior Stars out of the Madison area and the Janesville Jr. Jets.
Local players also played in the peewee Kohlman Cup tournaments recently, representing WAHA Region 4.
Articles on all of these events will appear in this space over the next few week as well as updates on the Dells Ducks junior hockey team, and some looks back at the 2020-21 varsity seasons for RWD, Baraboo/Portage, Sauk Prairie Eagles and the Badger Lightning, as well as a look back on the college seasons for local players.
Also, a summer of research and compilation will see much more statistical information and points of interest for the varsity and junior teams in the season ahead.
I recently made a connection that should see my varsity stuff get a lot more views and I am excited about that.
This past season I took saukhockey.info to a new level and it became recognized across the county. I am looking forward to the off season allowing me to get set for this fall a more organized and wider blanket coverage on all hockey in Sauk.
I am also dusting off another website/facebook page I had sort of shelved to dedicate more time to Sauk Hockey so it should be a fun summer.
Readers of Saukhockey.info. I apologize for the recent stall and don’t really have an excuse except for a sudden burnout.
This has been the third year I have started getting Saukhockey.info off the ground and I made major strides in getting it to where it is, but I have been doing it along with a fulltime and part time job already. It’s honestly a labor of love though so it usually is not a concern.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but a decision to skip the Sectional semi-final in Sauk Prairie – a rematch of the previous season’s game against Verona – ended up having a lasting affect on me. I was getting ready to make the short trip to Sauk, but I was fatigued from a long day (week) and looking at making the trip with no heat in my car.
I had been doing that for a while, but for some reason, I decided getting home and getting warm on this night seemed important. That turned into now three weeks of inactivity on SaukHockey.info, combined with an increased workload on my part time job as a coordinator for the United States Premier Hockey League.
So today, I find myself feeling bad and frustrated that I was so close to making it through the climax of the season but determined to get on track for the off season and the start of the 2021-22 campaigns. In the past when I have had to miss a few days, I would bear down and ‘catch up,’ writing stories about week old games and pretending they were being covered live, so the archives would have all the details.
This time around I am going to focus on a few things – Reviews on all four varsity teams in Sauk County as well as a preview for teams heading to the WAHA state championship tournaments in a few weeks.
Also, catching up on the WIAC and MIAC women’s hockey seasons in time for their playoffs which start shortly.
Spending a half hour talking to my best friend recently rejuvenated me and made me realize that I might need to put a priority on getting some help. I mentioned recently on the Facebook page that I was looking for someone who is a hardcore hockey fan like myself but a whiz at website work and got no response – I think the ‘hardcore hockey fan’ is where I ran into trouble and my friend pointed out to me that is not actually that important.
So, I have altered my search just a bit. Now looking for a combination website/advertising guru who might be interested in helping turn this into something bigger and possibly something lucrative at the same time. My email currently is email@example.com or I can be reached or texted at 608-393-2876.
Look for some additions to the website and Facebook page soon. There is still some time left in this season and I am already pumped about the possibilities for next season.