Because of restrictions and protocols, the Waunakee boys hockey team had to squeeze an entire season into just a few weeks this winter. Despite the limited number of games, the Warriors put together a memorable run.
“I would rate our season as a B-plus,” Warrior coach Kevin Stormer said. “Obviously we couldn’t compete for a conference championship, but we went 5-2 in the short WIAA season we had and only losing to sectional finalist KMMO and state runner-up Verona is pretty good. We couldn’t control what happened to Edgewood and the forfeit, but did a good job of worrying about things we could control like our attitude and effort.”
The Warriors played just five games during the regular season. They did not get to play until January.
“Honestly, I think the biggest highlight of this season was just having the kids get the opportunity to play,” Stormer said. “It wasn’t until just after Christmas that we thought it was a real possibility, so the fact that the players, coaches, parents, and school administrators were able to pull a season together is the real highlight. Sports are so important to these kids and their social development, as well as physical, and there are a lot of kids who aren’t getting the opportunity to play. We are very fortunate that our kids were able to have a season this year.”
The Warriors garnered regular-season wins over Bay Port (6-3), Whitefish Bay (4-2), Sun Prairie (5-1) and Verona (3-2), but lost to KMMO (6-2).
“The Verona game during the regular season was a pretty big highlight,” Stormer said. “It was our Senior Night, the game was in Appleton, coach Olson made an appearance, an ambulance was called for an accident between periods, and the game went into double overtime. I mean talk about a crazy night. I think that is one that everyone involved in will talk about for years to come.”
Waunakee then opened the WIAA Division 1 playoffs with an 8-6 win over Onalaska. The Warriors then won by forfeit over Madison Edgewood in the sectional semifinal.
In their first sectional final appearance in 10 years, Waunakee lost 5-2 to eventual state runner-up Verona.
“The thing I will remember most about this season is how much the kids didn’t want the season to end,” Stormer said. “I talked about how fortunate we were to even be playing, and you could see the kids didn’t want it to end. They really banded together to try and accomplish something no Waunakee team has and make it to the state tournament.”
The COVID-19 pandemic created a lot of changes this season, but the Warriors handled them in stride. They were unable to play games in Dane County, so they were on the road all season.
“There were a couple challenges that were presented this year with regard to COVID and precautions taken,” Stormer said. “Obviously, we weren’t able to play games in Dane County, but we were able to practice at the Ice Pond. That was a big help just making sure we had practice ice and it was easily accessible. Don Brausen does a fantastic job working with our program. The difficult part was navigating protocols from rink to rink and school to school. All the rinks we played at had slightly different protocols, so that was probably the biggest challenge, navigating all the different protocols and restrictions.”
The Warriors were led this season by seniors Drew Christianson, Steven Pasinato, Will Roe and Jack Samuelson.
“Our seniors did a great job of transitioning the team from a club program to WIAA,” Stormer said. “The transition was not easy, and we were playing games against teams that had been playing all season and we were just starting. In such a short time, they were able to keep the Warrior Way direction of this program moving forward. They have all played a lot of hockey for us, and their contributions to our program have been felt. We will miss having them around, but hope they come back to watch a game and witness the continuing and growing legacy of Waunakee Hockey.”
The good news is that with only three seniors on this year’s roster, Waunakee will being an experienced lineup back to the ice next season.
“I’m excited about next season,” Stormer said. “I hope it’s back to a somewhat normal season, at least being able to play games at home. We have a lot of guys coming back that will be seniors next year. We have some guys that are looking to step into bigger roles their senior year and leave their mark on the program. We have some question marks too. Will we get some guys back that went other places this season to play because of the local COVID restrictions? There are some good Waunakee kids playing for the Capitols who could potentially come back and look to fill a role. Regardless of the answer to those questions, I think we have a great group of kids that will really band together with most of them being upperclassmen. I don’t see any reason, right now, that we shouldn’t feel confident going into next season and at least be in a position to compete for the opportunity to go to the state tournament.”