There was nothing solid or reliable about the 2020-21 season for the Sun Prairie boys hockey team last season. The COVID-19 pandemic blew up expectations for the Cardinals to put a solid squad on the ice. Instead, Sun Prairie only played four regular-season games, losing all four. The Cardinals made the WIAA playoffs as a No. 9 seed and beat Baraboo/Portage before being forced to forfeit against Edgewood due to low numbers related to COVID-19.

Sun Prairie head coach Troy Giesegh decided to ensure that his Cardinals would have secure footing to stand on this year. Over the summer, he instituted a “leadership program” for his players to participate in. The team would meet once a week to read literature on being a better teammate. The squad even went on a retreat to Dodgeland to solidify the growth.

“We used it as an opportunity to become a family, grow as a team and be one,” Giesegh said. “I think a lot of good came from it. The guys understand each other better.”

Still, team chemistry can’t prevent unforeseen success on the football field. Four varsity players, including Davis Hamilton, Andrew Zielsdorf, and Dashle Maughan, were kept off the ice as members of the Sun Prairie football team, which made a run to the WIAA state championship game. The football team’s season ended Nov. 19, less than a week before the Cardinals were set to kick off their season.

“It’s a little stressful,” Giesegh said. “I’m excited for them. It’s awesome that they get to have that opportunity but I’d rather have them here. They’ll have to hit the ice running.”

Hamilton isn’t just a football player in a hockey sweater, either. He figures to be an important part of the team this season. A North Dakota State commit in baseball and an honorable mention All-State selection in football, Hamilton is an all-around athlete.

As a sophomore back in 2019, he was third on the team in points with 35, scoring 11 goals and tallying 24 assists. He led the team in goals as a junior in the shortened 2020 season. Now, as a senior, he’s primed to finally be able to build off of his sophomore campaign and lead the Cardinals.

Hamilton will have some help on the defensive side as well. The Cardinals return senior goalkeeper Nolan McCrary. As a sophomore back in 2019, he won six of his eight starts and had a 90% save average.

“He’ll be a huge component to our success this season,” Giesegh said.”

Beyond those two major names, Giesegh is proud of how coachable and capable the rest of his roster is.

“We hav lot of role players return to work hard in the corner, work hard, and make plays,” Giesegh said. “We have a good defensive core that will keep us alive in front of the net. We’ve got guys. I won’t say we have ‘flashy’ scorers, but we have guys that can score. We have guys at every level. We’ll look for contributions from everyone. Our victories will come from complete team efforts. I’m looking for a well-rounded team.”

A team that is well-educated on how to work well with one another and brings a unique blend of skills to the ice can make for vaulted expectations. There are no promises in the 2021-22 season given the question marks last season left. Still, Giesegh believes his guys can answer the call this season.

“Our expectations are high, “Giesegh said. “Our expectation is to win conference. We have to take care of business against good teams like Verona and Middleton and Madison Memorial. Our goal is to win conference. After that, we have a tough sectional. Sun Prairie hosts sectionals this year. It’d be nice to get there and play in our own barn.”

Sun Prairie’s season began Tuesday, Nov. 24 with a 3-0 win over Beloit Memorial. Hamilton showed no signs of rust with his quick turn of season, scoring a goal and assisting on another.

Adrien Krietlow (assisted by Evan Luxford and Noah Wilk) and Aiden White (assisted by Hamilton and Will Brinkmeier) scored the other two goals for the Cardinals. McCrary only needed to make 9 saves in this one, compared to the 63 Beloit Memorial’s keeper had to make, as the Sun Prairie defense dominated.

The Cardinals have a bit of a break before getting back on the ice. Their next game comes Thursday, Dec. 2 as they host La Follette/East at 7 p.m.

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