Minnesota Junior Hockey League: Early road schedule draws Dells Ducks together

Minnesota Junior Hockey League: Early road schedule draws Dells Ducks together

By Jim Smith

If one subscribes to the theory that a benefit of early season road trips for a team is the opportunity for players to bond, then the Dells Ducks of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League should be inseparable by now.

After opening the season with three home contests, the Ducks recently completed a streak of 17 consecutive road games, winning 13 of those away games. They opened the 2014-15 season with a 16-4-0.Minnesota Junior Hockey League,MNJHL,Dells Ducks,USA Junior Hockey

Included among those road victories was a milestone achievement as the Ducks earned their 100th regular season victory since joining the MNJHL in 2010-11.

“I think it was good for us to get on the road. You’re around the guys pretty much every minute of the day, which is good to start off the year just to see what kind of chemistry you have,” said Ducks head coach Bill Zaniboni, the 2013-14 MNJHL Coach of the Year. “The biggest thing guys have to know, especially at the junior level is that you have to win games on the road to be a contender. All-in-all, I take a lot of positives out of the 17-game road trip.”

The next streak will feature home cooking as the Ducks will play 21 of their remaining 25 league games at home.

“I think we’re pretty excited about that, as last year we only had one loss at home. That is something we take pride in as an organization,” added Zaniboni. “We want to make this a tough place to play.”

The Ducks have seven returning players from their 2013-14 regular season champion and Minnesota Division championship team. Their mentor looks to those veterans for leadership this season.

Ian Wood is our captain and a returning guy from last year. He is a guy that draws a lot of attention from the opposition as he can play in all three zones and adapt to whatever the team needs,” said Zaniboni. “He has done a really good job of taking control of the group in a positive way. He is a soft spoken guy who leads by example.”

Twin brothers, Bradley Hefner and Brady Hefner, serve as two of three alternate captains and have been with the organization for three years.

“These guys have been through the highs and lows in junior hockey. When I look at those two guys in our locker room I always know that we have a chance to win every night,” said Zaniboni.

The Ducks coach and former Northern Michigan University goaltender’s third alternate captain is netminder Sandro Aeschlimann, who played in the NAHL last season.

“He is a veteran and one of the best team guys. There are times when he has brought everyone together and he is here for the right reasons,” said Zaniboni. “That’s important for our younger guys to see.”

Aeschlimann has earned four shutout victories in the early going and has an opportunity to break the MNJHL record of nine in a season.

“We work a ton on the D-zone and taking care of our own end. I always say a save percentage is a goalie’s stat and your goals-against is a team stat,” Zaniboni added. “It’s something that everyone needs to look at and be accountable for.”

Offensively, the Ducks possess four solid lines and their coach promotes the concept of creativity and having fun while playing the game.

“We’re very capable of all four lines producing points. When I look at our roster, I don’t see any guys with 40 points, but I see a bunch of guys with 15 or 17,” Zaniboni said. “To have that depth makes you dangerous consistently over time and dangerous is what you need to be to win.”

The Ducks return two players on the defensive end from last year’s team in Bradley Hefner and Mike Sullivan, and they carry six blueliners on their roster.

“Our defense is anchored by Bradley. He is a fourth-year guy. He is not a big guy at 5-feet-7-inches, 180 pounds, but he plays like he is 6-6, 230,” Zaniboni said. “Our biggest thing is we want to get the puck and we want to move it.”

Matt Heim, from the Dallas Ice Jets of the Western States League, and Lucas Smith from Calgary are new to the Ducks defense this season.

“There are a lot of guys that I am excited about,” said Zaniboni.

Goaltender Jared Young backs up Aeschlimann and is, according to his coach, “really starting to make a name for himself.”

So as the Ducks return for a home game at Poppy Waterman Ice Arena for the first time since mid-September, the one thing they certainly know is each other’s name.


You can follow Jim Smith on Twitter @BlueLineNotes


Read past Minnesota Junior Hockey League articles in our archives: 

Rochester Ice Hawks off to flying start

A new champion arises in Marquette

Our February 2014 cover feature: “Minnesota Junior Hockey League – It Starts Here”

Minnesota Junior Hockey League: Rochester Ice Hawks off to flying start

Minnesota Junior Hockey League: Rochester Ice Hawks off to flying start

By Jon Volker

Through the first four games in this young season, the Rochester Ice Hawks won each contest and outscored their opponents, 44-5. They also scored at least 10 goals in all but one game. In that game they scored nine.

Not a bad start to the long season.Rochester Ice Hawks,Minnesota Junior Hockey League,MNJHL,Nick Fatis,USA Junior Hockey

Three of the top five point-getters in the league are Ice Hawks and all have more than 10 points in Minnesota Junior Hockey League play. Leading the way is returning forward Nick Paulson with five goals and eight assists.

Paulson is returning to his normal position at forward this season after spending last year as a defenseman. Of the newcomers, Dawson Quint (10 points), Austin Anderson (eight points) and Marcus Stoulil (seven points) all found their way into the top 10 in league scoring after four games.

“Well, a quick start looks great in the early box standings but in the end we want to be better tomorrow than today so it’s nice but it’s not everything,” said head coach Nick Fatis.

The four wins were against the expansion team Ironwood Fighting Yoopers (three) and the Maple Grove Energy.

The Ice Hawks return 15 players from last year’s roster and goalie Sam Nelson played for the Minnesota Owls last year. There is definitely a veteran presence on the roster, but still has a mixture of young and veteran players.

“Last season was a good year for us,” Fatis said. “We were the youngest team in the division and we were very competitive. By the end of the season we were contenders in the playoffs. We lost 24 games and 19 were by one goal, so our returnees know how one mistake can turn a win into a loss.”

With that mixture of veteran and young players comes depth and that is one thing Fatis is looking forward to this season.

“We’ve been extremely lucky to be so deep in every position. We feel that we are a well-rounded team that doesn’t depend on a few guys to carry the water, but early on guys like Nick Paulson, Sam Nelson, Alec Martin, and Marcus Stoulil have been drawing attention,” said Fatis.

Off the ice, the Ice Hawks have a new partnership with Mayo Sports Medicine, which will contribute a lot to the team. The Minnesota Lynx, Timberwolves, Twins, and USA Hockey also work with Mayo Sports Medicine.

“Obviously, we would love to make it back to nationals, but first and foremost we want to keep on the path of exceptional development and experience for our players,” said Fatis. “With our partnership with Mayo Sports Medicine training our players, we’ve been able to be a cutting edge program in both on-and off-ice training.”

It may still be early on in the season, but the Ice Hawks look like they will be in the mix for both the regular season and playoff championship.

“As always, the top of the MNJHL looks to be as good as any league in the country,” Fatis said. “Right now, the Ducks look amazing again. Hudson always has NAHL dropdowns playing with them so they are always solid and Forest Lake turned some heads early, but in this league, anyone can catch fire and become a major factor.”

The Ice Hawks open up their home schedule Sept. 27 against Hudson. All games can be seen on

Minnesota Junior Hockey League: A new champion arises in Marquette

Minnesota Junior Hockey League: A new champion arises in Marquette

By Jon Volker

It was an off-season of uncertainty heading into the 2013-2014 season for the Marquette Royales.

Minnesota Junior Hockey League,MNJHL,Dells Ducks,Bill Zaniboni,USA Junior HockeyIt was unknown to the Royales what league they would call home.  Finally, on June 10, the Minnesota Junior Hockey League announced a new member. The Marquette Royales would replace the Chicago Bulldogs in the Great Lakes Division and bring the league to 16 teams once again.

Fast forward to April 2014 and the Royales have quickly become one of the top destinations in the Minnesota Junior Hockey League, winning the Busch Cup in their first year in the league.

They are set to play in the Tier-3 Junior Hockey National Championships from April 3-7 in Simsbury, Conn. Minnesota Junior Hockey League,MNJHL,Marquette Royales,USA Junior Hockey

“I think the biggest surprise was how evenly matched the teams, especially the top five to six, were in each division,” said assistant coach Cliff Cook. “Also, coming from a very physical Western States Hockey League the last three seasons, the MNJHL was more of a skill league, so our physical style surprised some people.”

After just one season, Cook and Royales head coach Mike Stanaway have catapulted the Royales into the forefront of Tier-3 junior hockey. The Royales rank 15th out of 145 teams in Tier-3 junior hockey according to They also defeated the Dells Ducks in overtime to win the title game for the MNJHL.

“I’m not sure we were overly surprised, just based on the fact we knew the talent we had. Nearly half our roster had played for Mike Stanaway and I before, so we were confident in what the veterans would bring,” said Cook. “It was up to the new guys to buy in, and they have.”

“I’m not sure we can put into words what it means,” Cook added. “It’s obviously incredibly exciting for the organization, but what it’s meant for this hockey-mad town is huge.”

Marquette’s division at Nationals includes the Helena Bighorns (American West Hockey League champions), the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (Eastern Hockey League runners-up) and the Junior Bruins (USPHL Premier champions).

“By winning the MNJHL Bush Cup, we put ourselves into what I would say is the toughest division at Nationals,” said Cook. “Helena only lost one regulation game this year. Any top team coming out of the EHL is going to be good, so we know the Jr. Monarchs are strong. The Junior Bruins have proven they are, if not the best team in the country, one of the best. But you can’t predict results.”

The road to the National championship won’t be easy for Marquette, but they have already proven that they can beat the top teams in the nation with that win over the Dells Ducks.

“We will continue to play the style that got us here,” said Cook. “For better or worse, we stay with the philosophy that we’d rather have teams adjust to us rather than the other way around. Now, having said that, throughout a game or series we can tweak things as needed, but we have confidence in our talent and work ethic to put us in position to win each night.”

This season has already been a success for the Royales, but winning at Nationals would set themselves up with even more success in the seasons to come.

“Success is always a great recruiting tool, along with Coach Stanaway’s ability to get players into NCAA programs,” said Cook. “All 13 of our ’93’s are leaving Marquette with college offers. That says a lot.”

If you’re interested in joining the Marquette Royales for the 2014-15 season, the Royales will be hosting their second annual Open Tryout Camp on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., July 18-20. Go online to to pre-register.


Read past Minnesota Junior Hockey League articles in our archives:

Our February 2014 cover feature, “It Starts Here.”

Wooster Oilers within striking distance of Great Lakes Division leaders

Dells Ducks standing tall at Thanksgiving

Wisconsin Rampage: Finding their way in a tough Great Lakes Division

Wisconsin Rampage: Finding their way in a tough Great Lakes Division

Although the Wisconsin Rampage’s struggles in the win column have continued, the players and coaching staff are liking the team first play on the ice.

“The players really have stepped up their game recently. We’re seeing more blocked shots, better defensive play in our zone, and all together a better attitude inside the locker room every game now,” said head coach Mark St. Martin II.

“The stats, and our record are misleading for this team. The team is learning by failing right now. I have no problem with that at all. We have a lot of young or inexperienced players, and it’s only failure if you fail to learn from your mistakes,” he added.

The Rampage were 6-22-0-3 and were unable to crack the win column in December. They were able to enjoy a three-game sweep of the St. Louis Frontenacs, defeating them 6-3, 6-5 and 7-4.

The Rampage gave the Illiana Blackbirds a run for their money with an extremely close contest of 6-4 on Nov. 16, which included an empty-net goal by Illiana.

“The boys really fed off the energy of the fans that game,” said assistant coach Mike Argyris. “We were away. It was their first rivalry game, and I am very proud of how they controlled themselves, and how they played.”

Despite the results on the scoreboard, the results have been there in terms of scouting and recruiting by colleges.

“One of the many positives to this season is the ability to move players to become student-athletes next year,” St. Martin added. “We have talked to multiple universities and colleges about our players, and are excited to be announcing commitments in the near future.”

Robert Kalata, a ’95 from Park Ridge, Ill., scored 10 points in seven December games to put him now at 22 points in 29 games. Griffin Mason (’95, Barrington, Ill.) has continued his great play, including a four-point game on Dec. 20, another 6-4 loss to Illiana.

Anthony Casaletto, a ’94 from McHenry, Ill., had a strong December with six points in seven games that month to give him the scoring lead at 32 points in 31 games.

Devin Panzeca, a ’97 from Lake Zurich, Ill., also had a seven-point in December for 22 points in 29 games overall.

Defenseman Mike Howard has continued his offensive play with 22 points in 29 games, including eight power play goals and six power play assists.

If you are interested in playing for the Wisconsin Rampage, please contact head coach Mark St. Martin II at 262-498-7974 or or general manager Jim Pfaffinger at 815-355-1713 and


Read a past article on the Rampage in our archives:

Defensemen, goaltenders a mainly new crew


Tri City IceHawks: In the middle of a fierce Great Lakes Division battle

Tri City IceHawks: In the middle of a fierce Great Lakes Division battle

The middle of the Great Lakes Division of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League was a menacing wilderness with three points separating four teams between third and sixth.

The Tri City IceHawks got into the heart of this battle by winning seven of their last eight games between Nov. 23 and Dec. 15.

The IceHawks went 8-9-3 from the start of the season to Nov. 22, so their late November through December run was certainly a turnaround.

“I think we held our own through the first half of the season,” said head coach George Daniel. “I am not ready to say we are ahead of expectations, because I believe we let some points get away from us. A team goal we have is to have home ice for the playoffs and we are still a point or two away from reaching that goal.”

Daniel came to the IceHawks this year following a stint as assistant coach for the major junior Ontario Hockey League’s Saginaw Spirit. He brings a lot of the ideas of preparation at that level to the IceHawks.

“Preparing yourself as an individual to play junior hockey has been one of the issues I have really focused on this year,” said Daniel. “Being in the OHL, you are around high-end athletes who you teach what to do away from the rink to prepare for hockey as a career and, although that may or may not happen for our players, you have to believe in that same approach.”

With his contacts from his time coaching with the Compuware Midget team, he has been able to talk up his players with NCAA and North American Hockey League coaches.

Josh Blum leads the team with 41 points, and Zachary Bourcier is right behind him at 40 points. Blum’s 41 points was good for 10th in Great Lakes Division scoring.

“Josh is one of those guys that has a nose for the net, that uncanny ability to score on different shots as well as from anywhere in the zone,” said Daniel.

“We really have been led up front by Blum, Bourcier, Joe Hawkins, Josh Colleaux and Ryan Murray,” Daniel added. “On defense, Dylan Borowski and Nick Pines have been our backbone for most of the season, both quarterbacking power play units, and killing penalties.”

Nicholas Allen was the Great Lakes Division Goaltender of the Month in October. Harley White won his last three starts, as well.