Graduation hit the Waunakee boys’ hockey program hard.
In all, a total of 15 letterwinners have departed from a Badger East Conference championship team that went 25-4 overall and finished 12-0 in league play. Plus, the Warriors have a new coach, as Kevin Stormer takes over for Eric Olson.
“We lost a lot of seniors,”, said Stormer, who also filled in as coach during the Covid season of 2020 and went 6-4 that season. “We have a lot of inexperienced kids stepping into those roles this year, so we are looking for a lot of growth and development as the season progresses.”
Despite all the losses, the Warriors aren’t looking to take a step back.
“We still expect to fare well this season and compete for a top five seed in the section,” said Stormer. “I think our team still has the ability to compete for a conference championship. If we focus on the details of the game and have an attention to them, play simple, and play hard defensively we can achieve those goals.”
Speedy forward David Emerich returns for Waunakee, while Jordan Bavery is back as a steady presence on defense. Waunakee expects to be a high-flying team that can score a lot of goals, just like in past seasons.
“With all the guys we lost after last season, we have a lot of points that we have to try and replace,” said Stormer. “We still have David Emerich, who was one of the leading scorers in the state last year, and Tate Schmidt is playing high school this season instead of continuing with the Milwaukee Junior Admirals ‘AAA’ program and is a very talented, smart, and skilled player. While we look for those guys to drive our offensive bus, we have some good complimentary offensive players like Carter Allison, Gavin Cisewski, Logan Dargenio that we will look to contribute as well. The offensive philosophy is to score goals. However, we have to accomplish that throughout the season as our objective, and our system may change throughout the season and opponents.”
The Warriors are looking to make things difficult for opposing offenses.
“We want to be a hard defensive team to play against,” said Stormer. “Our objective is to really limit time and space we give opponents in our end, and play physical. We also need to execute the small details at a high level in our defensive zone to be successful. We want to limit our turnovers at the blue line, use the boards or our teammates to get pucks out of the zone, and then be quick in the transition to offense. We also need to be just as quick in our transition back to defense and have a purpose with back-checking.”
Bavery will have help on the blue line.
“Jordan Bavery and Sully Scadden are the two defensemen that will anchor our defensive corps,” said Stormer. “This has been a really solid and deep position for us the last three to four to years, so it will be exciting to watch those young men step into leadership roles (Jordan is our captain this year) and log some more ice time contributing in all situations.”
Stormer believes the Badger East will be top heavy in 2022-23, with McFarland, Beaver Dam and Waunakee battling it out for the conference crown. Monona Grove, DeForest and Milton will fight it out in the middle.
“With this only being the second year of the realignment, I think the conference, as a whole (East and West), is arguably as good and competitive as it’s been,” said Stormer. “The Badger Challenge is a nice addition to get good crossover games.”
Stormer likes Waunakee’s chances of winning the conference title, but it won’t be easy.
“I think McFarland will really give us a run this year, though,” said Stormer. “They have some offensive talent that can be hard to contain, especially on the big sheet of ice they play on, and their goaltending always seems to be above par. Whoever doesn’t win the conference between us, and McFarland will take second. A dark horse is Beaver Dam. They are really tough to play against, up in their building especially, and can make a run if they string some games together.”
There are plenty of newcomers who are ready to give the Warriors a shot in the arm.
“There are a few guys that have stood out in the first weeks of practice as ‘guys to watch’ as we move along this season,” said Stormer. “Michael Gruetzmacher is a sophomore who had hip surgery and missed all of last season for us. He’s back now, and we’re looking for him to continue to take steps forward and step into a big varsity role for us.”
A couple others will make an impact.
“Cash Eller is another player (freshman) that has impressed the coaching staff so far,” said Stormer. “He would be another player to keep an eye out for as we move along as a kid that could step into a significant role. Reiss Hermanson is another guy that, despite his size, does all the right things and gets the job done. He hunts pucks, takes the body, goes to the front of the net, and works hard. I think if he continues to grow in a positive trajectory, we will see him making significant varsity contributions as well.”
The Warriors will need to overcome their inexperience to reach their goals. Stormer said, “The inexperience has the potential to lead to costly mistakes that can end up in our net. We hope to grow throughout the season, and not make the same mistake repeatedly.”
The talent is there, though.
“I think our team strength will be the ability to grow and develop throughout the season,” said Stormer. “With the inexperience we have, I think we as coaches have a real good opportunity to get this group to buy-in to a certain way of playing where we can be successful.”