Starting out on a four-game winning streak is just how the Warbirds co-op team envisioned the 2017-18 season would begin.
That’s because the Warbirds are perhaps as deep as any team in the state thanks to an offseason combination of forces — the Fond du Lac co-op of schools from Waupun and the Fox Valley area has teamed up with the Beaver Dam co-op of schools from the Beaver Dam area, and the result is a season that begins with very high hopes.
The two co-ops joined forces because both were facing a numbers crunch: Fond du Lac, which last year carried the moniker of Warbirds, was set to be at 11 and Beaver Dam, then the Golden Beavers, was set to be at 13.
So co-head coaches Paul Uttech (Beaver Dam) and Duane Woeshnick (Fond du Lac) felt merging was the best way for both sides to remain competitive.
And the pollsters have taken notice, as WisconsinPrepHockey.net has the Warbirds ranked fifth in the state after they’ve already beaten some very good teams this season.
For example, just last Saturday, the Warbirds held off the Cap City co-op out of Sun Prairie to claim a 5-4 victory — and at the time the Cougars were ranked seventh. The loss dropped the Cougars to 10th.
And two weeks ago on Nov. 18, the Warbirds defeated Northland Pines out of Eagle River by the score of 12-1, the Icebergs based Stoughton by the score of 3-1, and Appleton United 4-3.
Sometimes with a new co-op like this, especially with the Fond du Lac side already having multiple schools as part of its charter, the transition to winning can be slow.
But evident by the 4-0 start, the opposite is the case for the Warbirds.
“They’re skilled players, so I think we’re optimistic we’re going to be a very competitive team,” Uttech said. “You don’t know exactly what’s going to happen until you step on the ice.”
That’s why Sun Prairie was a good test for the young Warbirds over the weekend, because when the Cougars came back to tie the game in the third period, the Warbirds showed their resiliency by staying focused, continuing to stay on the attack, and finding a way to go back in front and win the game.
It also helps when you have a level-headed freshman in Dayna Jones, who scored the game-winning goal with about five minutes left in the game.
“She just gets tons of ice time,” Uttech said of Jones, who is from Beaver Dam. “She’s a very composed player for a freshman.”
Alyssa Heim, a junior who was Wisconsin Hockey Coaches Association first team all-state last year, leads the team with nine points while Fond du Lac’s Hattie Verstegen, a sophomore, has eight and Drew Deanovich, a junior, has seven.
“I’ve been coaching for a long time and I’ve never coached anybody who works harder than she does,” Uttech said of Heim. “We’ve got a lot of kids on this team with really solid skills and really solid talent. They’re a lot of hard workers, but she’s a role model in that respect. She’s got a motor. There’s a motor that just doesn’t quit.”
Verstegen might be just as good.
“She’s a very similar player to Alyssa,” Uttech said. “It’s the same style of play, it’s just go, go, go. They’re physical, they work really hard.”
These girls are still fairly young, with at least a year of eligibility left to play with the Warbirds.
Add Jones to the mix, plus six talented freshman in Steely Shaeffer, Alyssa Foote, Tori Schmidt, Cassie Stephanie, Rachel Bolin and Abby Okon, and the future looks bright — especially this season’s future.
Plus, Uttech said Fond du Lac’s Maike Zipp, who was injured for most of the season last year, is healthy and played well in the first line with Heim and Verstegen against Sun Prairie.
“She’s got good speed, she works really hard,” Uttech said.
Uttech said he also likes the combination of Mary Skorupa from Fondy and Morgan Brown from Waupun as they work hard and well together.
Then Fondy’s Drew Deanovich is a tall defenseman and a great leader, as is fellow Fondy athlete Lauren Huettle, who Uttech said is a “real physical presence.”
Beaver Dam’s TJ Lindeman is someone who just keeps battling and battling in every game.
Both goalies are from Beaver Dam and have played well in four games of work; Okon has gotten a lot of work early on and has saved 87.5 percent of shots on goal fired against her while senior Becca Avalos has stopped 89.5 percent of shots her way.
All in all, the mix of players from both former co-ops complement each other well, and the new-look Warbirds seem to have jelled in a hurry.
“We had some pretty talented kids in Alyssa Heim, but we didn’t have depth,” Uttech said. “So, we complement each other pretty well in that respect. They had numbers up front. They had a lot of forwards coming back. We were pretty solid on defense, they were solid on defense, and we had goalies.”
It’s led to a nice start to the season, which the Warbirds hope to continue when they host the Badger Lightning out of Baraboo tonight at the Beaver Dam Family Ice Arena, with the puck set to drop at 7 p.m.
But the Warbirds don’t just want a hot start, they also want to keep it up all winter and compete for an Eastern Shores Conference title and a state title after that.
“I think we’re going to be very competitive in conference,” Uttech said. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t contend for a conference championship. We’ve got a lot of good teams in our conference with Green Bay, University School of Milwaukee will be solid and Appleton will be a good team. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t contend for a conference championship.
“Our sectional is basically our conference, so that’s a dog fight coming out of there, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have a goal of making it to state.”