Hockey Cards thinking big

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Andrew Chafe and Middleton's hockey team are hoping for big things this season./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

It’s been almost four full years now since the ultra-successful Libert brothers — Steve and Tony — resigned as Middleton’s hockey coaches.

In their 21 years together, the Liberts took a program from ground zero to great heights, including three trips to the state tournament.

Today, the Cardinals are still looking to recapture some of that magic.

Steffon Walby, who took over as Middleton’s coach in Jan., 2014, has compiled a stellar 65-21-3 record in his three-plus years as the Cardinals’ boss (.747 winning percentage). But despite some stellar regular seasons, Middleton has failed to reach the state tournament under Walby.

Middleton began its new season last Saturday with a 2-1 over Oregon. And Walby and the Cardinals are hopeful this is the year they can make it to the state tournament.

“I believe that we are still progressing in the right direction,” Walby said. “Parents, players and coaches are all in this together. We are all excited and optimistic that the end goal can be the state tourney. However that’s in March, and we are in November. That’s a lot of time for growth.”

Middleton could have some early-season growing pains.

The Cardinals graduated a gifted senior class. Then leading scorer and first-team all-conference forward Justin Engelkes chose to play junior hockey in Pennsylvania this season.

Middleton will build around defenseman Bryce Carey and forward Jake Feldt.

“Bryce brings leadership and a solid presence back on defense,” Walby said. “Jake brings great vision, puck awareness and certainly leadership. We have a number of other players that will be asked to play in key roles. This will be new to them, but we don’t have a choice. We are a young team.”

Walby will look to newcomer Bo Bergenthal for a lift. Bergenthal played with the Madison Capitols last year and is expected to give the Cardinals a boost.

Freshman Johnny Heppin also joins Middleton’s program after playing the Capitols.

“He brings a ton of skill and a fresh look to the ice,” Walby said of Bergenthal. “He will be expected to contribute as well.

“Johnny Heppin … brings a gritty style and certainly a much needed scoring punch.”

Middleton will be extremely young. But Walby sees that as both good and bad.

“Youth could be a strength and a weakness,” he said. “I am excited about how the team is responding thus far. Many of these guys haven’t had me as a coach. That will create a learning curve. I am optimistic about our work ethic. Once again we will have the best conditioned team and we will be very hungry every shift.”

Verona won the Big Eight Conference last year, with Janesville and Middleton rounding out the top three. The Wildcats and Bluebirds should be strong again, while Middleton hopes to jump up a notch — in both the regular and postseason.

“If the guys continue to put in the work and stay together then we will be really successful and it will be a great year,” Walby said. “However if the guys become individuals and get frustrated with each other it will be a long year. The coaching staff is really excited to coach this year, I think it’s the unknown that excites and frustrates us all at once.”



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