The Dells Ducks junior hockey team will enter its seventh season this fall with a new head coach at the helm.
With Bill Zaniboni moving to the east coast, team owner John Schwarz made the decision to bring in a familiar acquaintance and welcomed Jeff Worlton to the Ducks.
Worlton, a 37-year-old native of Rochester, Minnesota played hockey at the junior level with the Western States Hockey League before embarking on a six-season professional career with stops in Texas, Louisiana, Ohio and California, where he played with teams in the Central Hockey League, East Coast Hockey League and United Hockey League.
He stepped behind the bench at Marian University in Fond du Lac as an assistant coach for the 2006-07 season and has been a mentor now for 11 seasons.
Before coming the Dells, Worlton has had stops in Bradford, Ontario, where he spent a couple of seasons, first as an assistant and eventually as a head coach. He moved from there to the Tri-City IceHawks, who were then of the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League and now a team in the USPHL Elite Division.
Worlton spent a couple of seasons coaching the Flint Generals. After spending a couple of seasons as an assistant in the North American Hockey League with the Corpus Christi Icerays, Worlton spent a couple of seasons as a head coach for the Breezy Point North Stars before moving to Alaska where he took on the head coaching position with the Kenai River Brown Bears.
Worlton and Schwarz both attended a Showcase tournament in Sun Prairie recently and took some time Saturday to discuss the upcoming season.
Worlton is pleased to get a chance to carry on the successful tradition in town started by Schwarz and with Zaniboni behind the bench for the past five seasons.
“I am extremely excited. I think John and Bill have done a good job running a program at a high level and keeping it there,” Worlton said. “As a coach, this is a new thing for me. My niche has always been that I go to a place that’s run down and then I rebuild it and I leave, so this is a new thing for me and an exciting challenge.”
Schwarz is just as happy to add Worlton, a coach he met five years ago when he hired Zaniboni and became familiar with this past season when Zaniboni accepted a position as a scout for Worlton and the Brown Bears.
“We were really lucky. Last year every time Bill (Zaniboni) did an email at the bottom it would have Dells Ducks and Kenai River Brown Bears. Bill scouted for Jeff and it was a very exciting opportunity for us.”
In the Dells, Worlton finds himself in an exciting, but different position. Having built a reputation as a guy who can turn a struggling program around, Worlton said the process only works if the ownership buys in to the fix.
“I think it just takes a good owner, that’s going to support a guy like me that just goes in like a Hurricane and wrecking ball and stirs the pot, putting the energy back into the program, “said Worlton. “Usually when a program is run down, that’s what it needs, is a guy with energy that cares about it. I have a lot energy, a lot of passion. I can translate to a program trying to rebuild itself. It’s not me, it’s the players and the owner.”
In the Dells, Worlton is joining a team that has a solid reputation already. But with a host of graduation and transfers through the offseason, this will be a team almost entirely put together by Worlton over these summer months. It’s a different process and something he is looking forward to.
“This is uncharted waters for me, so I don’t know what my expectations are. We’re looking for a team that is going to do well in the community and well on the ice,” said the coach. “That’s our focus right now, just find the players and continue the tradition of the Ducks along the way.”
Worlton said having a new team doesn’t necessarily mean having a young team.
“I’m looking at anybody and everybody,” said Worlton. “Just recruiting, through the masses. We got a goalie from the NA3HL and I feel really good about him. It’s just, building through the masses. Just mass recruiting the best that we can.”
Schwarz was new to junior hockey when he first brought the Ducks to town six seasons ago. Since then, he has quickly transformed into a successful multi-team owner. Since the beginning, he has shown a great knack for finding the right guys for the job of coach. Zaniboni was named Coach of the Year for four straight seasons and his reign came to an end when Marty Quarters, head coach of the Wisconsin Rapids River Kings accepted the honor this past spring. The Riverkings are also owned by Schwarz.