Hockey Cardinals have high hopes

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Rob Reischel
Justin Engelkes (21) is one of the key returnees this winter for Middleton’s hockey team./File photo

On paper, the losses look substantial.

Key scoring threats. Defensive stalwarts. And a goaltender that played at a high level.

Inside Middleton’s hockey program, though, you typically don’t rebuild. You reload.

And Cardinals head coach Steffon Walby believes his 2016-’17 group can be just as dynamic as last year’s team that went 21-4 overall and won the Big Eight Conference — even though Middleton took some serious hits in graduation.

“We did lose a good talented group of seniors,” said Walby, whose team began their new season Tuesday with a home game against Sun Prairie. “However the current seniors this year are pretty good to speak of. They will be fast as well as hungry. I think one of the differences will be them fitting into their new leadership roles.”

After winning the Big Eight a year ago, the Cardinals reached the sectional finals and were on the cusp of reaching the state tournament for the first time since 2011. But Middleton fell to Madison Edgewood in the sectional finals.

According to Walby, that loss to the Crusaders won’t be a major motivator for this year’s team.

“The loss to Edgewood has not been a big motivator,” Walby said. “I think the toughness of our conference and our overall schedule motivates us the most.

“We as coaches are really excited to coach this group of men. We realize that this year will not be last year and we are making necessary adjustments as we gear up for the first game.”

Middleton said goodbye to standout defenseman Davis Bunz, the Big Eight’s Player of the Year last season. The Cardinals lost four other players that were named all-conference.

There is a solid group of returnees, though.

Junior forward Justin Engelkes was second on the team last year in points (36) and goals (16), third in points per game (1.50) and tied for third in assists (20). Senior forward Colin Butler tied for second on the team in points (36) and was third in goals (13), while senior forward Troy Reifsteck had two goals and 15 points

Seniors Zach Heidel and Preston Lewis and sophomore Dane Sjowall should spearhead the defense. In goal, senior David Vodelinch went 5-0 last season in limited time with a .938 save percentage.

Senior forward Hunter Kowalski returns after playing in a different program last season. And Walby believes the sophomore class has a number of players ready to have breakout seasons.

“My expectations are pretty simple,” Walby said. “Work hard, never give up, and lead both on and off the ice. Be an incredible student athlete and have fun. My overall expectations this year are pretty simple: come together as a cohesive group, pay attention to the little details, create and sustain good habits, and last but not least have fun. Winning will be a byproduct of us doing those things.”


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