Bring On The Ice Hawks

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Bring on the Ice Hawks October 30, 2012 12:12 PM

Coming off of a huge Minnesota Junior Hockey League series against the Twin Cities Northern Lights, the Dells Ducks enjoyed a weekend off, before yet another massive mission.

This weekend, the Ducks will play host to the Rochester Ice Hawks, the other super power in a league that is starting to develop into a three-team race.

The Ice Hawks, Northern Lights and Ducks are all beginning to move away from the field and the Ducks – a team that still has top spot in the league as the carrot dangling in front, needs to outpoint the IceHawks this weekend to keep it from turning into a two-team race.

“Obviously, they’re a team of interest,” said head coach Bill Zaniboni in a telephone interview Tuesday morning. “They’re a well coached team and they work hard. They are almost a benchmark on the ice.”

Zaniboni was speaking of the Ice Hawks’ amazing record in recent years of being at or near the top of the league at season’s end. Rochester, Minnesota has become the traditional site of the National Junior Championship tournament each spring and the home team has been a regular competitor, not as a host, but as a qualifier frequently in the last decade.

The Ice Hawks are also the team’s closest rival right now (not including cross-divisional rivals in Stevens Point and Pleasant Prairie) with La Crosse as the halfway mark on the trip to a visit with the Ice Hawks.

The Ducks have enjoyed two weekends off and on both occasions, the Ice Hawks have played the Northern Lights, allowing Zaniboni and his staff to either make the trip or check out the game online. As a result, there is some familiarity despite the teams not meeting yet.

The Northern Lights are the epitome of finesse and speed in this league and while both the Ducks and Ice Hawks can stay with the lights, Zaniboni says both teams embrace a more physical workmanlike style.

“There is a similar style on our teams I think,” said Zaniboni. “They want to go out ad punch people in the face, but they have speed and quickness. That’s the way we like to play too.”

So, while the fans can expect a physical series, it is important to stay on the legal side of that line said the coach. On ice discipline has been an issue at times for the Ducks and its hard to escape that for a team that plays the physical game. The Ducks were able to avoid the sin bin effectively last weekend and that could play a big part in this weekend’s matches.

“I think both teams, the powerplays are effective,” said Zaniboni. “Ours is up around 27 percent. Discipline is going to come up huge this weekend. Sometimes you have to take a punch. It’s hard to understand, even for me (a former pro player),” but it’s the situation you’re in, you have to do it.”

With a three game set, Zaniboni said he views it as a sort of playoff series. He knows if the last set with the Northern Lights was a real playoff series, his team would be on the golf course now and he is not about to let that happen again.

“I’m looking at it as a playoff series. If our team is going to win, this is a team we have to beat.”

Two out of three would be nice of course, but Zaniboni has his sights set higher on the eve of every weekend.

“Every weekend our goal is to take three out of three,” said the coach. “You can’t be content because we’re trying to teach these kids life lessons. We push them hard. We want them to fight through adversity and through pain.”

Game time decisions.

Overall, the lineup could actually be similar to the one that took on the Northern Lights two weeks prior.

After a brief stint with the Port Huron Fighting Falcons, both Gavin Porter and Ian Harris are back in town and in the lineup for this weekend. There is a possibility Lane Martin could be loaned from the Soo Eagles once again. Zaniboni said he was expecting a decision from the Soo coach on Tuesday night, but Anthony Saleh will not be in the lineup as the leg injury he suffered against the Northern Lights actually required surgery.

Team captain, Kevin Salinas, perhaps the best faceoff man in the league and a key on the penalty kill suffered a shoulder injury against the Lights, but he expects to play against Rochester. Look for Connell Totten to play a bigger role against this team as well as one of the Ducks’ most physical players, in particular in front of his own net.

Baraboo senior Brett McCutchin is actually eligible to play in this series. Earlier it was thought he would be done at the end of this week, but High School hockey actually begins on Monday, so this will be his finale until likely some time in February.

That leaves the goaltending decision and it will be a difficult one for Zaniboni, a former goaltender himself. Both Robbie Meadows and John Sellie-Hanson have turned in dazzling efforts between the pipes and as of press time, Zaniboni was not prepared to tip his hand in either direction.

“It’s a tough decision. I think it will determine a lot this weekend. We’ve had some great goaltending this season.”

As it did a season ago, the Ice Hawks who normally attract a huge crowd for home games will be bringing a couple of busloads with them to tourist town this weekend. Ducks are hoping for a nice sized crowd of its own to balance the numbers.

Game time on both Friday and Saturday nights is 6:30 p.m. with a high noon faceoff in the Sunday getaway game.

Kids who attend Saturday’s game are invited to bring their skates for a brief open ice session of skating with the home team following the contest.

By Jim DenHollander

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