A midseason hot streak last season nearly pushed the Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells/Mauston boys hockey team back to the WIAA state tournament for the first time since 2015.
While they fell one game short in their state pursuit, the Cheavers return an experienced and talented core, and add some skilled underclassmen looking to help RWD take the next step.
“It’s always big for the guys that return, because unlike the new kids, they have that retrospect of what it takes to get through a WIAA hockey season,” Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells/Mauston coach Neil Mattson said.
“I always tell the kids ‘It’s no longer youth hockey,’ and the adjustment from youth to WIAA is a huge step up, but we have a nice solid core returning from last year.”
The Cheavers, who finished 19-5-2 last year, biggest losses will be felt on offense, with a major void being left by unanimous first-team All-Badger North Conference pick Derek Pawlak, who scored a team-high 33 goals and added 19 assists. Defenseman Jon Zobel joined Pawlak as a unanimous first-team pick after adding five goals and 14 assists, and the rest of the senior group accounted for 51 points.
While daunting, Mattson is confident the Cheavers have the players to fill those holes and replace the production. Should that lag, RWD will be able to lean on sophomore goaltender Cooper Oakes.
Oakes shined in his freshman season, earning unanimous first-team honors behind a 2.01 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. According to Mattson, Oates has spent plenty of time at the rink over the summer and despite the early accolades, remains “just a humble kid.”
“He’s hardworking every day at practice, a unique player and very fun to have on the roster,” said Mattson, who also has a reliable back-up in junior Brenden Karas. “We have a very capable second goalie in Brenden and it’s nice to know we have depth at goaltender.”
Looking to keep life easy on the pair between the pipes is a hungry group of attackers aimed at matching last year’s 3.69 goals per game average. Leading the Cheavers’ top line is senior forward Thomas Pfaff.
Pfaff garnered honorable mention All-Badger North honors last season behind 13 goals and a team-high 31 assists. While more output will be assumed of Pfaff, Mattson said that isn’t weighing him down.
“He’s just calm, and I don’t think it phases him,” Mattson said. “He’s just a great leader on the team, on the ice, and you couldn’t ask for a better kid.”
Along with Pfaff, the Cheavers will look for more production from a bevy of attackers. Junior Danny Ely returns after scoring 12 goals and 20 assists last season, while seniors Alex Kruser, Nick Horzewski and Ben Fish are aimed at leaving one final mark.
“I have really high expectations for them, especially Ben and Alex as seniors, you want to see them go out on a high note,” Mattson said.
Sophomore Trevor Slaght also returns after a strong freshman season, regarding high expectations from Mattson, while sophomore CJ Pfaff incorporates into the team after playing on the U-15 Team Wisconsin last year.
On the defensive end, the Cheavers will lean on junior Connor Schyvinck and sophomore Caden Jacobson. The duo played significant minutes as underclassmen last season and creates a strong base for the RWD back line this year.
“The amount of miles they logged last year, we really ran only three defensemen and they’re a solid foundation,” Mattson said.
Behind Schyvinck and Jacobson, the Cheavers have a bevy of defensemen battling for time. Sophomores Dylan Conroy and Ty Thompson are aimed at breaking through, while Mauston sophomore John Thrasher, from the U-15 Team Wisconsin and Green Bay Junior Gamblers, and freshmen Carson Brandt and Logan DeMars can make an immediate impact.
Even with all of the experience back, Mattson knows the Cheavers will take their lumps early on, but he’s confident they can heat up like last season. Following a 5-3 loss to McFarland in the semifinals of the Monk’s Cheeseburger Classic, RWD went 10-1-1 in its last 12 games, kick started by a seven-game unbeaten streak.
If RWD wants to go streaking again this season, it will do so against a difficult schedule, including non-conference games against Waupaca and Hayward.
“It’s not always about winning,” Mattson said. “It’s also about having competition and having better competition for our players.”
That difficult slate should help the Cheavers as they try to capture a third consecutive Badger North title after going 9-0-1 in league play last season. Mattson said winning the league is on top of the RWD list, but he knows the group can’t overlook anyone as it tries to bolster its resume in the new WIAA Division 1 sectional, featuring a group of Big Eight Conference teams.
“I would tip my hand that Verona is probably the top dog in that section, but I’ve told our kids that we really want to vie for that No. 1 to 5 seed,” he said. “But most importantly, the goal is for the kids to go out, have fun and experience a great season.”
RWD rolls past Wisconsin Rapids
The Cheavers wasted little time flexing their muscles, coasting to 6-0 win over Wisconsin Rapids in their season-opening non-conference tilt on Nov. 26.
Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells/Mauston led 3-0 through two periods before finishing things off with three more in the third, including a pair of goals by junior Danny Ely. Senior Nick Horzewski added a goal and an assist, while senior Thomas Pfaff and junior Connor Schyvinck each had two assists. Sophomore goaltender Cooper Oakes was perfect in net, stopping all 16 shots he faced.
Onalaska co-op topples RWD
Another strong start for the Cheavers went for naught on Saturday as they failed to make a lead hold up in a 7-4 home non-conference loss to the Onalaska co-op. RWD darted out to a 3-1 lead after the first period, including a pair of Ely goals, but the Hilltoppers returned the favor with a 3-1 second period to send things into the second intermission knotted at 4.
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Onalaska finished things off in the third with three more goals, including a pair just 42 seconds apart, for the win. The Toppers were 3-for-5 on their power play opportunities, while the Cheavers were 0-for-5. Oakes made 39 saves in the loss, while sophomore Clayton Pfaff had a goal and an assists.
Cheavers, Tomah/Sparta settle for draw
RWD (1-1-1) couldn’t make a lead hold up for the second straight game on Tuesday as the Cheavers let in a pair of third period goals in a 4-4 draw against Tomah/Sparta.
After playing to a 2-2 tie through two periods, the Cheavers took a 4-2 lead in the third period behind a shorthanded goal from Clayton Pfaff and a goal from senior Ben Fish with 9 minutes, 40 seconds left to play. Tomah/Sparta answered right back with a goal by Evan Long at 9:49 before John Christen scored at 15:42 to force overtime, where neither team could find the game winner.
Oakes made 18 saves in the loss, while Tomah/Sparta goalie Gavin Hammer stopped 48 shots.
REEDSBURG/WISCONSIN DELLS/MAUSTON 6, WIS. RAPIDS 0</&hspag4>
Reedsburg/Wis. Dells/Mauston 1 2 3 — 6
Wisconsin Rapids 0 0 0 — 0
First period: RWD — Slaght (Jacobson), 1:10.
Second period: RWD — Brandt (T. Pfaff, Schyvinck), 1:50; Horzewski (Schyvinck), 10:46.
Third period: RWD — Ely, 0:56 (pp); Horzewski (T. Pfaff), 10:57; Ely (C. Pfaff), 15:52.
Penalties-minutes: R 4-11; WR 4-11.
Saves: RWD 16 (Oakes); WR 37 (Stachurski).
ONALASKA CO-OP 7, REEDSBURG/WIS. DELLS/MAUSTON 4</&hspag4>
Onalaska 1 3 3 — 7
Reedsburg/Wis. Dells/Mauston 3 1 0 — 4
First period: Ona — Lass (Duren, Stobb), 2:46 (pp); RWD — C. Pfaff (Schyvinck, T. Pfaff), 5:48; Ely, 7:46; Ely (C. Pfaff, T. Pfaff), 13:57.
Second period: Ona — Manglitz (Corneau, Degaetano), 2:50 (pp); Mason, 6:04 (pp); RWD — Slaght (Kruser), 14:51; Ona — Lass (Stobb), 15:03.
Third period: Ona — Stobb, 5:13; Manglitz (Degaetano), 5:55; Manglitz (Degaetano), 16:13.
Penalties-minutes: Ona 5-10, RWD 6-13.
Saves: Ona (Nitti) 14, RWD (Oakes) 39.
REEDSBURG/WISCONSIN DELLS/MAUSTON 4, TOMAH/SPARTA 4 (OT)</&hspag4>
Reedsburg/Wis. Dells/Mauston 2 0 2 0 — 4
Tomah/Sparta 1 1 2 0 — 4
First period: TS — Amberg (Holtz, Thompson), 2:34; RWD — Horzewski (Brandt, T. Pfaff), 8:03; Schyvinck (Fish), 15:23.
Second period: TS — Cruz (Erickson), 1:08.
Third period: RWD — C. Pfaff (Schyvinck, Horzewski), 5:37 (sh); Fish (Horzewski, Slaght), 9:40; TS — Long (Yourell), 9:49; Christen (Long), 15:42.
Penalties-minutes: RWD 4-8; TS 5-10.
Saves: RWD (Oakes) 18; TS (Hammer) 48.
Follow Sean Davis on Twitter @SDavis_PDR or contact him at 608-745-3512.