Former hockey players speak highly of Liberts

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MTT News Desk's picture
Rob Reischel
Former Middleton goalie Eric Smith was among several ex-players saddened to hear Tony and Steve Libert had been forced to resign as the Cardinals’ co-head coaches./File photo


Word spread like wildfire.

That’s what happens inside programs that are as tightly knit as Middleton hockey is.

And as former players heard that Cardinals’ co-coaches Steve and Tony Libert were forced to resign last week, the overriding feeling was sadness.

“I honestly thought of them as coaches that always had the best intentions, not only in caring about us as hockey players, but as people, too,” said Skyler Rusch, a former Cardinals standout and 2008 MHS graduate. “Steve and Tony would take time off from work to coach the team and do things like host optional video sessions on Sunday’s, instead of spending time with family. 

“I would consider their dedication to the program to be extremely high, above and beyond what any other coaches had ever done for my teams.”

Eric Smith, a former standout goalie who helped Middleton reach the state championship game in 2011, agreed with Rusch.

“I enjoyed playing for both the Liberts,” said Smith, a 2011 MHS graduate “They have a unique coaching style where they each play to their strengths.

“For example, one coach usually runs the systems and strategies, while the other works on conditioning, discipline, and work ethic.  Hockey is a difficult sport to coach, especially with kids at the high school level. During my time at MHS, both Liberts were always supportive and wanted what was best for the team.”

Like all coaches, the Liberts were passionate about winning. Middleton reached the WIAA state tournament three times under their guidance, played in 10 sectional finals and won three Big Eight Conference titles.

Perhaps more importantly, the Liberts took even greater pleasure in developing solid citizens.

“They were great coaches who know a lot about the game of hockey, and respectable people who you could talk to about your life,” said Erik Hurd, a forward on Middleton’s 2011 state runner-up team. “They knew how to push you to achieve the goals you wanted. 

“My time as a Middleton High School hockey player was probably the best time in my life. We were a family and treated everyone like a family member.  As a team we had some difficulties but always were able to put things behind us and grow. I have nothing but good words for them.”

Rusch agreed.

“Truly, I felt they did a great job of preparing me for real world situations,” Rusch said of the Liberts. “For example, we weren’t the most skilled or most talented bunch of players, but we outworked our opponents to achieve our goals.

“This is truly something I have carried over into my professional life. I may not be the best, most experienced person in my field, but I will work as hard as possible to get to that point, because I’ve learned that it is possible to overcome adversity.”

The events of the past week brought adversity Middleton’s program didn’t want. And it left past players saddened by the developments.

“It’s sad because I know how much time and energy they put into that program,” said Cole Schmitz, a standout forward on Middleton’s 2006 state team. “I have a ton of respect for Tony and Steve, and had a great time playing for them. I think it will be hard to match the passion they had for the program.”


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