CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
On the one hand, St. Mary’s Springs was fortunate to be able to finish its run to its first state hockey championship since 1987 when it did, before public gatherings were effectively halted across Wisconsin.
“It’s super small in the scheme of things,” coach John Welsch said. “We’re still so fortunate because the following week all the basketball kids missed out. We got to play and live it.”
What the Ledgers lived was a 5-1 victory over Northland Pines on the morning of March 7 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison in the WIAA Division 2 championship game. The victory concluded the Ledgers’ 24-3-2 season that included a run of outscoring their five playoff opponents 34-3.
On the other hand, the players and coaches from Springs have missed out on some of the peripheral benefits of winning a state championship.
Welsch said his wife hasn’t been able to order state championship memorabilia because no one is manufacturing it right now, and the team still hasn’t had its year-end party.
“There’s nothing more fun than having a year-end party when you won the last game,” Welsch said. “It’s a fun party when compared to, ‘Ah, we got so close.’”
Welsch is keeping things in perspective during the state’s “Safer at Home” period, and knows that will eventually happen.
“We’ll get our chance (to celebrate),” Welsch said. “There are many things that are missing in life right now.”
While they have made previous trips to the WIAA state tournament, they finally broke through in the first year the statewide high school athletics governing body offered two different classes of competition. The Ledgers had a dominant run in the 1980s as a member of WISAA, including their last title team, of which assistant coach Scott Paveglio was a member.
St. Mary’s Springs was the smallest, by enrollment, of the 83 hockey-playing schools in the state this season. Despite that, they played what wisconsinprephockey.net rated as the 11th-strongest schedule in the state.
Welsch said he knew going into the season, the Ledgers had the capability of making the run they did. When asked how long it took for that to materialize, he noted the team started showing it right away from the first game of the season.
“We’re very, very skilled and we knew we had a shot at getting to Madison,” Welsch said. “We knew what we had going in. I had the talent level to actually know we could contend.”
In the championship, leading scorer Brady Welsch (39 goals, 44 assists, 83 points for the season) scored two goals while Mitchell Huettl (24 goals, 27 assists, 51 points) added a goal and two assists. Other leading scorers for the Ledgers during the season included Noah Pickart (19 goals, 39 assists, 58 points), Dayne Deanovich (19 goals, 22 assists, 41 points), Calvin Grass (19 goals, 19 assists, 38 points) and Connor McLaughlin (9 goals, 21 assists, 30 points).
The team had a freshman goaltender, Hayden Rising, who posted seven shutouts during the season.
“He’s a 14-year-old kid,” Welsch said. “He’ll be the first to tell you the first 12 or 15 games, he probably had a little different mindset than his last 10 games. ‘Coach, there’s a big crowd here. They’re calling me names.’ He was rock-solid throughout. He will be one of the top goalies in the state next year.”
In addition to Huettl, the team will graduate just two other seniors – Nolan McDermott and Cade Sabel.
Coach Welsch noted most of his junior class has been playing in state championship tournaments since they were playing youth hockey at age 7.
“We will need kids to work hard to step into their roles,” Welsch said. “All three seniors played a big role; so some of the sophomores and juniors will have to spend some time in the offseason to replace (them).”
With so many players returning, it’s very possible the Ledgers might get to have a normal celebration a year from now.