Samantha Kinsler was about 3 years old when she first laced up a pair of ice skates in the Learn to Skate program at the McFarland Community Ice Arena. Her decision to take up hockey brought a warm glow to her father, Dave Kinsler, current boys hockey coach at Monona Grove High School.
“I didn’t think there was going to be any other option,” he said with a chuckle as his daughter continued with the game in youth leagues, played four years with the Icebergs girls high school hockey co-op and then joined the women’s club hockey team at UW-Madison.
The father and daughter are now working as assistant coaches for Team Wisconsin, one of the state’s more elite hockey clubs with a schedule that includes some of the best teams from Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois. It’s a partnership that had brought them closer together through a game the two of them love.
“I’m lucky to get to learn from my dad, who honestly, I don’t think anyone else who knows more about hockey,” said Samantha Kinsler, who graduated in 2019 from UW-Madison with a degree in environmental science and works as an environmental technician in Cottage Grove. “I’m really grateful to work alongside him and learn how to coach hockey from him.”
Honing hockey skills
She fondly remembers her adolescent days of playing youth hockey, removing her hockey gear after hours of being on the ice.
“I remember taking off my pads and seeing all the lines in my skin, because I had my gear on for so long,” Sam Kinsler said. “I thought that was so cool.”
After completing youth hockey, she joined the Madison Patriots in the seventh grade and the DC Diamonds the following year before signing up to play for the Icebergs in high school.
All this time, Kinsler, a man who played high school and college hockey and developed a stellar coaching reputation in high school and in other hockey organizations throughout Wisconsin, enjoyed being the parent watching his child develop as a player.
“I really enjoyed watching her not just as a hockey player but as a parent,” he said. “She really wore it on her sleeve and brought a lot of compassion, energy and competitiveness to the game. It was really fun to watch her play.”
Sam Kinsler joined an Icebergs team that had developed a reputation for playing hard and keeping opponents on their toes under head coach Mike Jochmann.
The co-op was originally called the MSO Icebergs because the players came primarily from McFarland, Stoughton and Oregon. Later, the team would start accepting Monona Grove High School athletes.
In her freshman year, she scored one goal and four assists as the team survived a 3-2 battle against the archrival Metro Lynx in the first round of the WIAA girls state hockey tournament. Unfortunately, it was the only postseason win as the Icebergs fell to Onalaska, another longtime nemesis, by a score of 5-2.
In Kinsler’s sophomore season, she contributed three goals and seven assists to a 15-9 team that won its first-round playoff game over the Rock County Fury but lost 2-1 to the Metro Lynx.
As a junior, she joined Team Wisconsin in the fall. It was challenging but a good education.
“It made me pick up my pace,” Sam Kinsler said. “All the girls at that level are really good, and most go to play college hockey. I definitely became a better player.”
Kinsler returned to the Icebergs for her third year and scored two goals and seven assists as the team went 13-9-2. But the club couldn’t get out of the second round again, as it defeated Badger Lightning in the playoffs but lost again to Onalaska.
The 2014-15 Icebergs had five seniors including Kinsler and Kenzie Torphy, one of the top girls hockey goalies in the state with a .935 save percentage and 1.92 goals per game against average. Kinsler had three goals and four assists as the squad finished 13-9. In the first round of the playoffs, Kinsler recorded two assists as the Icebergs topped Badger Lightning. But Onalaska eliminated the Icebergs in the second round.
Even though the Icebergs had short playoff runs, Kinsler said it was a fun experience.
“We really had a good team all four of my years in high school,” she said. “All the girls older than me were really competitive and fun to play with. It’s neat to play for a co-op, because you get to meet different players from different schools.”
After graduating from Monona Grove in 2015, Kinsler enrolled at UW-Madison, but her love of hockey did not fade away as she joined the university’s women’s club hockey team. She was captain of the team in her junior and senior years.
Her father went to many of her games and saw how the game made her in a better person.
“It was extremely rewarding. She played club hockey for UW on Saturday and Sundays, and I got to see her play every Sunday,” Dave Kinsler said. “It was fun to watch her grow as a person and as a leader in all aspects of the game.”
The Kinslers are now assistant coaches for the Team Wisconsin girls U-14 team, which consists of the best girl hockey players in the eighth grade. Last season, under head coach Krystal Strassman, the team finished 11-11-2.
The experience for Sam Kinsler, who has been a coach for two years, has been very satisfying.
“It’s been fun to get to know the girls,” she said. “The U-14s are really coachable, and willing to play hard.”