By Jim den Hollander Editor/Publisher Saukhockey.info Former Dells Ducks goaltender Sandro Aeschlimann has once again put on the jersey of his home country and led the Swiss National team to its third straight win at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championships in Finland.
Aeschlimann, 27, is one of three goaltenders for the Swiss National team and each have made the most of an opportunity to patrol the crease for Switzerland so far. Aeschlimann, a native of Zazlwil, Switzerland played for the Ducks in 2014-15, appearing in the most memorable home game to date, a 1-0 win to clinch the Bush Cup Championship (MNJHL). He appeared in 32 regular season games and seven more in the post season, posting a sub 2.00 goals against average and a Save Percentage of .935 in the regular season and .958 in the playoffs. After the Ducks, Aeschlimann played a season of NCAA Division 3 hockey at Elimira College in New York before returning home to Switzerland where he has played professionally for the past six seasons, five with HC Davos in the top Switzerland Pro League. On Tuesday, Aeschlimann made his first appearance at the Worlds, providing the team with two periods of shutout hockey to help them build a 2-0 lead against Kazakhstan. The Kazaks struck for a pair in the third, including one to get within a goal with just over two minutes to play, but Aeschlimann shut the door from there, boosting the team to its third straight win a the tournament behind played in both Tampere and Helsinki, Finland. The team was back on the ice Wednesday and boosted its record to 4-0 with a 5-2 win against Slovakia.
The 16 nations playing at the Worlds are divided into two eight-team pools. The Swiss currently lead Pool A with its 4-0-0 record while Canada is right behind at 3-0-0. Both have all but guaranteed in the tournament’s Quarter-Finals next week. Reto Berra, a veteran goaltender from Bulach, Switzerland with several seasons of both Swiss Pro and AHL experience, played in both the first game against Italy and fourth game, against Slovakia for Switzerland and Leonardo Genoni, another vet, from Semlone, Switzerland appeared in game two, a 6-0 shutout against Denmark. The Swiss has three round-robin matches remaining, taking on Canada Saturday, France on Sunday and arch rival Germany on May 24. If Switzerland sticks with his current goaltending rotation, Aeschlimann will likely hit the blue paint against France. While the Swiss team has some vets in goal, Nico Hischier from the New Jersey Devils, the country’s only ever first overall NHL draft pick is on the roster along with Pius Suter of the Detroit Red Wings, Timo Meier of the San Jose Sharks and Jonas Sigenthaler, also from the Devils.
After a lengthy lapse, Saukhockey.info is heading into the summer season.
First there is some catching up to do. The last story posted on the website was on March 15 and there are a couple things that will certainly be old, but better on the side than forgotten.
Since then, there have been a couple things that have taken me away from the site, but admittedly, a mild form of burnout played a part as well.
I look forward to catching up on the few articles that have yet to make it to the site and then move on to the summer. Last summer I discovered there really is no ‘down time’ for hockey. It is certainly a bit slower in the summer with not as many Sauk County participants, but it never completely goes away. In fact, there ae some big player announcements coming up in the next few months as well as the first scouting summer for Dells Ducks Head Coach Anthony Rohde.
There are several locals who take part in summer events with the Blue Devils, Team Wisconsin and later, the WEHL teams.
I believe this is the upcoming hockey season will be the fourth for Saukhockey.info. If my current plans work out, it will be bigger than ever and I am also hoping to revive midwesthockey.info, a site that I originally came up with close to a decade ago, but due to the focus on local hockey and some crazy internet issues, it has been on the back burner for the past 2-4 years.
I am looking to take advantage of a lot more video and social media type things in the next season but have some catching up to do there as I look to stay somewhat modern. Par for the course for a guy who started out as a sports reporter just as the industry was switching from manual typewriters to floppy disks. It’s gone through tons of changes since then as well.
The plan here is to have all of that organized to roll out when the new season gets underway in September with perhaps a few announcements and additions along the way.
Hopefully 2022-23 will be another amazing season for both saukhockey.info and midwesthockey.info.
The Dells Ducks saw its season come to an end in Coon Rapids recently as the overwhelming underdog bowing with back-to-back defeats against the Minnesota Blue Ox despite 120 of the Ducks best minutes of the season.
Its impossible to carry that momentum for five-plus months into Labor Day when the team will head into the 2022-23 season.
A small, but definite improvement over the previous season leaves room for optimism for a Ducks team that has been the youngest in the Midwest-Division if not the entire USPHL Premier League for both of the past two seasons, since Shaun Falzone stepped in as the owner/GM/Head Coach of the team.
But big changes that took effect within hours of the end of the 2021-22 season hold promise of a big improvement starting this fall.
While the changes are recent, they are far from sudden. Falzone has talked about a second phase for this team since the day he came to town and former Assistant Coach Anthony Rohde plays a big part in next generation.
Rohde was forced to step aside this season for personal reasons but his presence has been felt in at the Lake Delton Ice Arena frequently over the past season. Falzone officially passed the Head Coaching reins to his former player and good friend within days of the season’s end. The job has been Rohde’s to take for two seasons and seriously since around Christmas.
Mario Lachica will also return as the Assistant Coach and the chemistry is big and immediate between these to who have played and coached together. Like Falzone, Lachica’s style of coachng is similar to Rohde’s. One thing that any player suiting up for the Ducks can be guaranteed is icetime and individual attention. Both Rohde and Lachica are tireless and love calling the arena home during the season. The Ducks practiced twice a day through most of this past season but if there was empty ice available, Lachica was willng to work with anything any player wanted.
Rohde usually has skates on his feet for 8-10 hours or more a day when he is at the rink.
He delayed accepting the position until just recently, but he comes in with a solid gameplan and a list of possibly players he has already been in contact with. Don’t take that to mean the team is set though. As any good coach would, Rohde is searching high and low over the off season for prospects that will make the team better.
While home in the Chicagoland area, Rohde coached a bantam level team over the season and he has taken advantage of league play to look for talent. He was also on hand at the Monk’s Cheeseburger Classic. Rohde and Lachica both checked out the WIAA Seniors Tournament this past weekend and their calendars are filling up for what promises to be a busy summer, spent mostly sipping coffee and taking notes in ice rinks across North America.
Falzone will be no less busy but steps a bit into the background as team owner, looking after paperwork, sponsor hunting and promoting the team.
Ducks fans have remained mostly loyal through the past five tough seasons for the Ducks which has seen mostly 16-17 year old players.
During that tenure, the Ducks have developed many players for upper echelon Tier 3 and some Tier 2 teams and many have gone on to play at Division 3 or ACHA Club hockey teams at th college level. That will continue but watch for the Ducks to begin its move north n league standings as well.
Fans will enjoy the rise and local youth players will also be thrilled to have Rohde and Lachica ready to help them improve as well.
A few years ago, I was talking with a coach who said he wished there was an all-area team based on an all-City varsity team put together by a Madison newspaper.
I have wanted to do that but have been shy as it is completely opinion based and opens the door for criticism. This season in particular, the talent level is sky high on all four Sauk County varsity teams making it difficult to decide.
I have decided to put my selections out there and I invite others to put their own list together. Points, leadership, and consistency were the prime consideration in putting this together but there are no formulas because, well, I hate math.
I have four full lines of players and four goaltenders on the first three lines. I am picking a player of the year and future stars as well.
Let the debate begin
Jimmy D’s All-Saukhockey.info teams.
Nick Mast (Sauk Prairie Eagles) – Mast’s inclusion on here is a slam dunk. He put up 43 goals and 68 points this season to wrap up a massive four season (regular season only) total of 101 goals and 194 points. He is the first player to put up a three-digit goal total and his 194 points leaves him second behind only the amazing 240 point run of Riley Jelinek.
I attended a few pre-season Captain’s practices and Mast was a leader on the ice during those sessions as well as others and he is generous, working with youth players in town as well.
CJ Pfaff (RWD Cheavers) — Pfaff has always made his presence felt with RWD, but this season he led by example from start to finish. The line of Pfaff/Slaght/Caden Brandt was one of the most potent trios in the RWD team’s history and might have been overshadowed slightly in a season that saw some amazng top lines in Sauk (Mast/Mast/Peterson), Oregon and Madison Edgewood.
A constant scoring threat, Pfaff increased his value by being so effective in his own end and perhaps the best penalty killer in the conference.
Luke Mast (Sauk Prairie Eagles) — The lone non-senior on the first line, Luke Mast got the nod for me ahead of the other RWD players based on the playoff head-to-head meeting.
Luke outpointed his brother this season by a point and was among the state leaders in assists with 47. Of course, it helps having a guy like his older brother pulling the trigger on a lot of those passes. Luke will be the obvious leader for the Eagles next season.
Hakon Peterson (Sauk Prairie Eagles) – The Eagles showed in its playoff game in Reedsburg this season, it can hold on to a narrow lead through a period or more. Peterson was the defensive leader for this team and a key part of the offense, in particular on powerplays with 10 goals and 36 points.
Grant Marsich (RWD Cheavers) — Like Peterson, Marsich was effective at both ends of the ice. A physical defender he played with a chip on his shoulder and enjoyed getting under the skin of opponents. He was on the ice in every situation for the Cheavers this season.
This would be a nice defensive combo with Peterson and Marsich both bringing a hard-hitting physical presence and comfortable in any game situation. Perhaps, we will get a chance to see this combo later this month at the Senior’s tournament.
Cooper Oakes (RWD Cheavers) – A starting goaltender for the Cheavers since his first game as a first year, Oakes won 18 this season, giving him a total of 52 victories, more than double any player that has gone to the crease since RWD was formed.
Able to put up a big game any time, Oakes’ biggest improvement this season was consistency. A critic would be hard pressed to produce a bad game for Oakes in goal in 2021-22.
Erik Peterson (Sauk Prairie Eagles) — A lanky, aggressive forward who can put the puck in the net , Peterson was the perfect fit with the Mast brothers. Coming off a 12-week run with Team Wisconsin that wrapped up on the eve of the WIAA regular season, Peterson was in mid-season form out of the gate and he contributed 16 goals and 38 points for the Eagles.
Caden Brandt (RWD Cheavers) — Like Luke Mast in Sauk, Caden Brandt will inherit the reins of the RWD Cheavers in 2022-23 and he has been a key player on the squad since his sophomore season. He was among the scoring leaders as a sophomore and added 15 points to his totals with 26 goals and 46 points this past season. He has already put up 91 points in 67 varsity contests and he will be among the team’s best by the time he finishes his senior season.
Kayla Capener (Badger Lightning) — A look at playoff results shows a Badger Lightning team making a first-round exit again. However, the team took a mighty step forward, closing in on the .500 mark with nine wins, matching its best season since 2015-16. Capener, named to the all-state squads as a sophomore, played a big part of that for the Lightning, collecting 16 goals and 38 points and becoming just the second player on the team to cross the 100-point plateau with her senior season yet to come. Her consistency was the most impressive part of her game. She collected points in 17 of the team’s 21 games, including a six-point game and two five-pointers.
Carsen Brandt (RWD Cheavers) — For a guy that wasn’t even supposed to play this season, Carsen Brandt, Caden’s twin brother couldn’t have made a bigger impression this season. Many were nervous about the RWD blue line heading into this season, but the emergence of Marsich combined with the stability and great 200-foot game of Brandt and the amazing play of Cooper Oakes in goal played a big part in the second in conference finish of the Cheavers in the opening season of Badger West action. He will be as important as his brother in 2022-23 and both will for sure be wearing letters on their jerseys.
Carson Blosenski (Badger Lightning) — Small but growing numbers for the Badger Lightning put Blosenski in a unique and tough position of being a leader on this team as both a junior and senior. Despite a marked improvement in the offensive play, thanks in part to a player infusion that took the team from two to three lines this past season, the d-corps and goalie were kept busier than normal this season and Blosenski was up to the task.
Kaden Stracke (Sauk Prairie Eagles) — The fourth junior on the line, Stracke turned in another awesome season in goal for the Eagles. Stracke turned in 11 regular season wins and two more in the post season for the Eagles. Stracke edged out Brooks McInerney again this season, but McInerney was right there with five wins and both goaltenders picked up shutouts. As seniors, Stracke and McInerney will be relied on to backstop an Eagles that will be looking to replace a lot of goals from graduating players.
Trevor Slaght (RWD Cheavers) — This might be an unpopular spot for Slaght, and it says here he deserves to be on one of the upper lines as well. The two factors that pushed him down a bit – both completely out of his control – are a late start due to acl injury and just a stellar cast this season on all four teams.
While the injury prevented him from scoring a higher spot on this team it is also part of what made Slaght’s season so amazing. First, he returned weeks earlier than expected from the injury, a tribute to his hard work off ice and in 14 regular season games played, he put up 12 goals and 12 assists, turned, put the team’s top line on a new level and played a part in helping a 5-5 team to an 18-6 final regular season record.
Oliver Scanlan (Baraboo/Portage Thunderbirds) — Scanlan’s role might have been a little obscured on a team that not only featured a small number of seniors but saw some of them sidelined due to injury or illness for much of the campaign.
Scanlan and senior linemate, Gabe Fitzwilliams scored 23 goals between them which doesn’t sound like much until you consider that’s nearly half of the Thunderbirds’ 49-goal total. Scanlan shared the team scoring lead, adding seven assists to his total. Playing on a young team subjected to the adversity this team faced couldn’t have been easy, but Scanlan showed up and gave his best all season.
Signe Begalske (Badger Lightning) — Another player on the Badger Lightning who served two seasons as a ‘senior’ team member (the team had no seniors in 2020-21), Begalske enjoyed a big spike in scoring playing as a linemate with Kayla Capener. Begalske totaled 13 goals and 30 points, nearly doubling her 17 points from the previous campaign. Begalske showed a willingness to dig the puck out of corners for Capener or be the trigger-player herself with a rugged but clean game – Begalske sat just four minor penalties this season, one more than the previous year.
Ty Thompson (RWD Cheavers) — Thompson deserves a spot on this list as recognition of a solid role as a defensive defender for the Cheavers. He seldom hit the game sheet as an old school defensive defenseman, there are no stats that highlight the role he plays. Often partnered with a defender that likes to jump into the offensive play, Thompson looks after the house and often, rides a charging forward off the puck or at least gives them a low percentage outside opportunity.
Carson Zick (Baraboo/Portage Thunderbirds) — Zick was another bright spot on a team that struggled due in part to injuries and illness and other adversity this past season, especially in the second half of the season when he became a game sheet regular.
Zick, a sophomore, collected nine goals and 19 points to share the team lead and he will no doubt be a leader even as a junior for the Thunderbirds in 2022-23.
Andrew Schaetzl (Baraboo/Portage Thunderbirds)/Alyssa Gada (Badger Thunder) — It’s impossible to separate Schaetzl and Gada who both played huge roles on teams that seldom held the margin on the shot clock.
Schaetzl was another of the key seniors on a young Thunderbirds team. He faced an average of 37 shots per game and a 4.77 Goals Against Average and a .867 Save Percentage don’t tell the whole story of a player that was the last line of defense on a team that found it difficult to stop the attack.
The team’s two biggest games were wins against the Monroe Cheesemakers to clinch fifth spot in the Badger West Conference. In those games, Schaetzl handled 61 of 66 shots to help lift his team to two of its four regular season victories.
Gada, a sophomore was in a similar situation with the Badger Lightning. While the team showed a marked improvement this season, Gada was still accustomed to facing more shots that the opposing keeper.
She appeared in 19.13 games for the Lightning and faced an average of about 30 shots per game. She notched seven of the team’s nine wins including a pair of goose eggs, tying her for second overall for the team with Gabby Christensen and Kelcie McElhenie. She might not approach the 11 clean sheets that Jamie Dutton put up as a Lightning tender, but Gada still has two more seasons to make her mark in the blue paint.
Tomas Korndorfer (RWD Cheavers) – The Czech Republic exchange student was a huge surprise for the Cheavers, and he might have been the most dangerous player in the County this season inside of the opposition blue line. Almost all his goals were the highlight-reel type as he managed to often put it into the smallest openings. Korndorfer ripped 15 goals and 29 best, third best total on the team. With the arrival of Slaght near Christmas, Korndorfer combined with junior John Scott and sophomore Brady Baldwin to form a second high scoring line for RWD, a rarity in varsity hockey.
Micah Hanson (Sauk Prairie Eagles) — In what will likely be the final season of competitive hockey for the Division 1 Lacrosse recruit (Canisius College), Hanson put up 13 goals and 19 points. A special teams regular, 10 of Hanson’s goals came on powerplays, along with four assists. He also picked up an assist while shorthanded.
John Scott (RWD Cheavers)/Gabe Fitzwilliams (Baraboo/Portage Thunderbirds – This decision was just too tough. The role Fitzwilliams played as a senior on Baraboo/Portage can’t be overlooked, but Scott enjoyed a breakthrough season and set himself up as a player that will be relied on heavily next season.
Fitzwilliams partnered with Oliver Scanlan to collect 18 points forming a dangerous combo on offense for a team that struggled to find the net. He came up big in big games, scoring five of his 12 goals in the four Thunderbird wins including the overtime game winner against Tomah/Sparta on the road in the T-Birds’ second game of the season.
Scott was a deadly triggerman, scoring 14 goals and 19 points, most of his goals coming on one timers from the top of the crease. He benefited from having his billet brother (Korndorfer) on his line, scoring five goals at the Monk’s Cheeseburger Classic, shortly after the line was formed. In the first 11 games he scored twice, adding another dozen in the second half. Not shy about getting into the physical play, watch for Scott to be a heart and soul player for the Cheavers in his senior season.
Logan DeMars (RWD Cheavers) — DeMars stepped up his play this past season and with the graduation of Marsich and Thompson, there will be big expectations from this lanky, physical defender who scored four goals and set up another half dozen this past season. DeMars, like Brandt, is a good 200-foot player, capable of carrying the puck and dish to potential goal scorers at the other end.
Eryn Benson (Badger Lightning) — Another junior that will be stepping into a leadership role, Benson is blessed with a powerful shot from the blue line, which helped her rack up five goals and 14 points for the Lightning this past season. She has made her presence felt since she was a first year, but this season’s 14 points showed a marked improvement in that area. On a team that spent a lot of time in its own end, Benson teamed with Blosenski to form a solid combo, limiting opposition chances.
Benson will be a key fixture on a Lightning team that will receive some valuable, but young additions in her senior season.
Honorable Mention – Who to Watch
Brady Baldwin (RWD Cheavers) — It’s hard to believe I couldn’t find a spot on these teams for this valuable player. In his first two seasons with RWD, Baldwin has put up 15 goals and another 15 assists and he was always on the ice with the game on the line. An agile and speedy skater he is equally comfortable as a setup man or a finisher.
Other RWD players to watch – Iszak Elder, Yevgeny Dedun and Trey Lariden
Luke Schweda (Baraboo/Portage Thunderbirds) — A quick agile and physical player who has played both forward and defense, Schweda will be an anchor and a scoring threat for the Thunderbirds in his senior season).
Other Baraboo/Portage players to watch – Nathan Gneiser, Jordi Beale and Peyton Sloan.
Gunnar Nachreiner (Sauk Prairie Eagles) — Only in the lineup for 15 games this season, First year Nachreiner put up four goals and 12 points to finish sixth in team scoring. He is a good bet to be on one of the top lines in 2022-23 and beyond.
Other Sauk Prairie Eagles players to watch – Karsyn Banta, Ethan Tranel, Thor Peterson.
Bella Bowden/Mallory Ruland (Badger Lightning) — Limited to just a half dozen games and one goal this season, Bowden was one of the conference’s fastest skaters as a sophomore. In a perfect world, Bowden comes back for her senior season with something to prove and wreaks havoc on the Badger Conference.
Ruland also saw her points total dip a bit this past season playing on a different line. A potent sniper she found the net eight times though, which is one more than the previous season. As a senior leader she could combine with Bowden along with Capener and Reese Olson, who enjoyed a massive first season with nine goals and 19 points along with a host of younger and incoming players that will make the team bigger offensive threat.
Other Badger Lightning players to watch – Reese Olson, Lily McPherson, Kayla Garbacz.
Player of the Year – Cooper Oakes
This was an easier choice than I expected. That’s not to say there aren’t a host of candidates from all four teams.
What most fans saw was a goaltender that has had fans chanting his name since he played youth hockey add consistency to all the great attributes he had between the pipes. When the team got off to a slow start in the early games, it was the work of Oakes in the blue paint that kept games close. In previous seasons, his skills were on view in many games but there were games when the entire team, including Oakes were not on their game. He would be the first to agree with that assessment too.
This past season though, I am hard pressed to point to any games when the puck stopper wasn’t in perfect form.
What fans might not have seen – this was Oakes’ team this season. As a senior, he took the leadership role seriously, doing all he could to lead by example and not shy about playing bad cop when he thought it was necessary. If he didn’t think players were focused or pulling their weight, he was fine with letting them know. What made it ok was he didn’t expect any more out of his teammates than he expected out of himself.
Oakes is a three-sport athlete. He will move on to varsity baseball almost immediately, but his game is hockey. He will be playing junior hockey somewhere this fall and the team that lands him is lucky.
The Dells Ducks are hoping some solid play at the annual Chicago Showcase can carry over into the final 13 games of the USPHL regular season, beginning with a pair on home ice this weekend against the Minnesota Mullets.
The Mullets, coached by Chris Walby who has Sauk County hockey connections, originally from the Lodi area, but playing his youth hockey in Sauk Prairie, also turned in a nice performance in Chicago and both teams are looking to keep their progress rolling into the new year.
The Ducks currently sit eighth in the eight-team Midwest-West and currently trail seventh place Rum River Mallards by 11 points, so climbing in the standings would be a longshot, but team morale is high with the addition of several new players (see video) and this team is clearly not done fighting.
The Mullets won three of four in Chicago and that builds to 4 of five when considering the team’s 3-1 win against the Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings on Dec. 11. Overall, the Mullets are sixth in the division with a 12-14-1-0 record, but the recent wins have the team in a position to move higher and home ice in the first round of playoffs is not out of the question.
For the Ducks, build has been slow, but there are a number of benchmarks the team could set in the final 13 games of the season.
As a team, the Ducks have already collected four wins, one more than last season and points-wise, the nine points is also one more than last year. But the team has shown a marked improvement in almost every area.
The Ducks have scored 72 goals this season which is already seven more than last year with 13 games to play. Last season the team allowed 365 goals and the way the team is playing currently (225 GAG), they will likely finish under 300 goals against this year.
The 386 Penalty minutes is third highest in the division, but only a fraction more than half of the 768 it collected a year ago.
A year ago, Jaden Tkaczuk led the team in scoring with 19 points. This season, that would not rank him in the top four as Caden Glamkowski (27g, 19a) leads the way now with 46 points, and on a pace to perhaps break some longstanding team records.
In the Ducks’ opening season, Aidan Verbeke led the team with 37 goals and 76 points in 2011-12. Both records are still intact today, Ian Wood getting within one after a 36-goal 2013-14 season.
The 27 for Glamkowski so far leaves his 10 behind Verbeke’s mark with 13 games to play. If he doesn’t score another goal, the ‘04 from St. Charles, IL will have the sixth highest total. His next goal will move him into a tie for fourth with Sherman Mowery and Jake Stima.
Glamkowski is also in a tie for 15th with his 46 points, a total also reached by David Kaplan in 2015-16.
Tkaczuk has collected 52 points (21g, 31a) in his two seasons with the Ducks so far, ranking him in a tie with Jason Heard as the team’s 16th leading scorer all time and Glamkowski sits 22nd. Both will make their way up that list if they can continue to produce in home stretch.
Perhaps most impressive is Glamkowski’s points per game which this season is at 1.533. That ranks him fourth highest all time behind Verbeke (1.583), Nick Albergo (1.600) and Connor Rickabus (2.00). The leader came up with 12 assists in six games played, so that record might not be beatable, but Glamkowski is on an awesome pace.
If age is considered, Glamkowski’s goals and points totals are the best by a 17-year-old. He is already three points past Billy Warren who collected 43 as a linemate to Verbeke in that first season. His 27 goals are by far the best by a 17-year-old, the next best total 19, also by Billy Warren.
Go down one year and defenseman Jack Kopfstein will wrap up his season tied for the best season as a 16-year-old. The Vista, CA defenseman has put up three goals and a dozen assists for 15 points. That matches the five goals and 10 assists for Jacob Cameron of Oregon, WI in 2017-18. Kopfstein will unfortunately not be able to build on that as a collarbone injury suffered in Chicago has brought his season to a premature end.
There are currently three 16-year-olds playing for the Ducks, Zach Windom and Oliver Cabala joining Kopfstein while two others – Jace Weimer and Sam Bachman have suited up at different times on an interim basis.
That is five out of 15 players that have played for the Ducks as 16-year-olds over the past 11 seasons. Current Ducks Seth Stoutenburg and Thomas Howell also played as 16-year-olds with the Ducks.
All these stats show while overall, there might be some reasons to grumble as the Ducks have been in rebuild mode 2.0 and 3.0 over the past five seasons, this young team is moving in the right direction.
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.
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.
The Labor Day behind them, it’s game on now for the Dells Ducks heading into the USPHL Premier Midwest-West season.
The first two weeks of camp were geared primarily toward conditioning and getting fit for the season. After Labor Day, the team headed into it’s first game week, albeit exhibition contests.
It will be a busy weekend, beginning with two games on Friday, then one each on Saturday and Sunday. That will give the Ducks a taste of competition ahead of their first regular season contests the following weekend against the Rum River Mallards.
It was interesting to see the team in practice on Tuesday with a little more jump in their step, the carrot being the games to be played on the weekend.
Unfortunately, there will be no Hockey TV available for this weekend’s contest. The various Ducks’ facebook pages and this website will be the place to check out for details on all four games.
Happy Birthday – Derek Pawlak
Derek Pawlak played three full seasons with the RWD Cheavers varsity team from the fall of 2016 to the spring of 2019.
Pawlak played 71 games with the Cheavers and scored 70 goals, the highest total amassed by anyone since the RWD team was formed in 2010-11. He also notched 52 assists for a total of 122 points, second best total, behind only the 164 of Dylan Brown.
Pawlak turns 26 today. Saukhockey.info and the RWD program would like to wish Pawlak a Happy Birthday.
The Dells Ducks will wrap up week two of its pre-season training camp this weekend with some hard work and celebration of Labor Day.
Following a tough ‘bag skate’ on Friday (Sept. 3) there was no yoga/fitness scheduled and players returned to the ice for their normal skills skate Friday afternoon. Several players were planning to once again take in a football game as the local high school team, the Wisconsin Dells High School Chiefs attempt to start the season with a third straight win for the first time in several seasons.
On Saturday, players are scheduled to take part in a four-team full ice three-on-three event. While the primary prize will be “bragging rights,” according to Assistant Coach Mario Lachica, those are high stakes on this close knit and highly competitive squad.
The rest of the weekend schedule is not known as of this writing, but Head Coach Shaun Falzone said earlier it would would be fairly light and he will allow the players a chance to enjoy the holiday weekend before returning to work in the team’s first game week of the season.
The team will prepare for a series of exhibition games to be played in Detroit Sept. 10-12 and that will officially kick off the start of preparation for the USPHL regular season the following weekend.
Happy Birthday – Geno Semeniuk
Geno Semeniuk, a native of St. Petersburg, Russia, spent 18 games with the Dells Ducks in the 2018-19 regular season, one of three junior squads he played for between 2017-18 and 2019-20. While with the Ducks, Semeniuk, a smooth skating forward, chipped in four goals and 10 points.
Saukhockey.info and the Dells Ducks would like to wish Geno a Happy 22nd Birthday. Unfortunately, there are no photos available from that season other than this team picture taken after the team’s improbably playoff sweep of the Hudson Havoc. Semeniuk is on the far right of the back row.
The Dells Ducks started a new month, taking training camp to a new level with first day of two-a-day on ice sessions at the Lake Delton Ice Arena today (Sept. 1).
The team continues to prepare for its upcoming USPHL season. Today the team was on the ice at 9 a.m. and again at 3 p.m. This will continue to be the schedule for the rest of training camp with alternating days of off ice fitness and yoga sessions as well as online schooling for several players in the afternoons.
Coach Falzone said in a video interview the team was still aware of some early season ice issues at the Lake Delton Ice Arena adding the intensity level of the practices will increase as the ice allows in the days ahead.
Varsity teams and youth hockey teams from Sauk County and Dane County will fill up the hours of icetime available in the next few weeks. Look at this space for details or visit Poppy Waterman Ice Arena (lakedeltonice.com).
The Dells Ducks started the second phase of training camp Tuesday (Aug. 31) with it’s first regular practice.
The team tested the ice and ran a light session the previous night, but ran a full practice Tuesday. Coach Falzone said the team would continue off ice activities, alternating day to day with yoga and fitness sessions run away from the Lake Delton Ice Arena.
Record breaking month
Thanks in part to a huge boost from Wisconsinprephockey.net, this website has enjoyed its best month ever in terms of views and it’s not even a hockey month.
The story looking back on the Badger North Conference that RWD, Baraboo/Portage and Sauk Prairie all played in, until this season, had almost 800 views as it was carried by Wisconsin’s best varsity website. But daily updates, like this one have seen consistently decent numbers leading to the overall top total that set the new standard set last September.
This is just the start. The plan here is to have blanket coverage on all Sauk County Hockey and hockey players from the county playing elsewhere. Thanks for the support of the hockey fans so far and get ready for a great 2021-22 season.