Hockey Cardinals hope to shine

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Spencer Kalscheur and Middleton’s hockey team were thrilled to get clearance to begin their season./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Dan Truehl’s happy place has always been the ice rink.

So naturally, Truehl — Middleton’s first year hockey coach — was one happy camper last week.

On Jan. 11, Middleton superintendent Dana Monogue and athletic director Jamie Sims approved the return of winter sports to MHS, with all games to be played outside of Dane County. And for the first time since taking the job last spring, Truehl could do what he enjoys most — coach his Cardinals.

“I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling,” Truehl said. “I took the job in March with all sorts of tasks, goals, and structure to build. Then, just like that everything stopped. It’s been a difficult start to my coaching career at Middleton, but being back on the ice with my coaching staff and our skaters was well worth the wait.”

Truehl and his staff are attempting to line up a few games before regionals begin on Feb. 2. That’s been a challenge, though, as most of the state began playing in November and have their schedules filled.

“Scheduling has been difficult,” Truehl said. “The first hurdle is getting ice in other cities and towns outside of Dane County. The second hurdle is finding a team that is available this late in the game. We’re hopeful that we can schedule two or three games in the last week of January to get our legs under us before playoffs.”

Instead, the Cardinals are trying to get their legs during practice, but that’s been challenging, too.

Due to pandemic restrictions imposed by Dane County health officials, the Cardinals must maintain six feet of social distancing during practices and can only have 10 players on the ice at the same time. 

While that allows for individual skill development, with no scrimmaging or close-contact drills the players lack an opportunity outside of games to gain chemistry, or to learn how to improvise when things don’t go according to plan.

You won’t find Truehl bemoaning that for a second, though. Instead, he’s just thrilled to have a chance to work with his players.

“The first week back was awesome,” he said. “The kids and coaches had great energy and excitement from the second we stepped on the ice. We’ve had to wait a long time for that first practice, but we’re back now and plan to make the most of it.”

When the Cardinals eventually play their first game, they hope to surprise.

Middleton went 14-10 last year, then defeated Tomah/Sparta in its playoff opener. But the Cardinals were stripped of their playoff win — and all of their victories — for using an ineligible player throughout the season.

The Cardinals were immediately tossed from the postseason. And the scandal eventually led to MHS and coach Steffon Walby agreeing to “part ways.”

Middleton brings back a solid nucleus from that team, a group excited to get a fresh start under Truehl.

Among the key returnees are Jack Baltes, who scored seven goals, had seven assists and averaged 0.58 points per game a year ago.

“Jack has the most varsity games played amongst the returners,” Truehl said. “He brings leadership and hockey sense that is infectious within our locker room.”

Sophomore Garrett Ballweg had four goals and seven assists last season and averaged 0.46 points per game.

“Garrett had an excellent freshman year last year,” Truehl said. “We’ll be looking for him to continue to develop and become a leader on the team.” 

Forward Spencer Kalscheur had four goals, seven assists and averaged 0.50 points per game a year ago.

“Spencer is a very creative and gifted forward,” Truehl said. “We’ll lean heavily on him to create plays and put points on the scoresheet.”

Jonathan Bakken (one goal, one assist) and Jakob Covey (two assists) are two more key returnees.

“JB is a physical presence with a heavy shot,” Truehl said of Bakken. “He brings the size and grit that our team will need against the top teams in our conference. 

“Jake is an energetic and physical defenseman who looks to join the play and help in the offensive zone. We’ll be looking for him to be a leader for our younger defensemen.”

Goalie Connor Faucher went 3-1 last year with a 2.0 goals against average and an .881 save percentage.

“Connor is an athletic and competitive goaltender,” Truehl said. “We’ll look for him to play well early as we develop and acclimate some of the younger skaters.”

Forwards Ethan Lam, Sean Ruhly and Ben Strasser, along with defenseman Ryan Inman will also play key roles.

“Ryan is a skilled defender that sees the ice very well,” Truehl said. “He’ll be working with Jake to bring along the rest of the younger defensive group. Ethan is an offensive sparkplug. He sees the ice well and we’ll look for him to continue to develop from his solid freshman season last year.

“Sean is a strong leader and offensive producer for us. He will be a calming presence and role model for all the underclassmen. Ben is an experienced and talented forward in our locker room. We’ll need him to provide not only leadership, but offensive output to spark our team.”

Truehl is also excited about several newcomers that will be asked to help replace a 13-person senior class.

“This year’s team has big shoes to fill and we’ll need our newcomers and underclassmen to provide production and leadership to keep this program going in the right direction,” he said. “We have a lot of exciting and talented young players and it should be a lot of fun to watch their development.”

Middleton’s sectional consists of Verona, Sun Prairie, Waunakee, Madison Edgewood, Baraboo/Portage, Tomah/Sparta, Sauk Prairie’s co-op team, Aquinas’ co-op team, Reedsburg’s co-op team and Onalaska’s co-op team.

Truehl is excited to see what the next month brings, and believes it can lay the groundwork for big things in the future.

“We obviously have our eyes on the postseason, but this next month is huge for setting the tone for next year as well,” Truehl said. “We’re going to work our butts off to be ready come tournament time, but we’re also trying to make up for lost time over the past two months. Every minute of every practice needs to be moving us in the right direction.”

 

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