Special contribution to WSN by UW-Stevens Point communications student Jostun Pomplun
Last season, the Onalaska boys’ hockey team made it to their first ever state championship game. They were unable to come away with the victory, but had accomplished a lot in the season and are coming back this year looking for more.
The team must replace five seniors from last year, including Mississippi Valley Conference Player of the Year and Wisconsin Hockey Coaches Association honorable mention All-State Ian Earp. Other departing All-Conference players include John Gargaro, Bryce Bingham, and Luke Tepp. Despite the losses, the team has an abundance of talent returning.
Key returnees for this year’s squad include senior defenseman Caleb Blank, junior forward Tyler Ebner, senior goalie Joe Witz and senior forwards Bennett Hutson and Austin Lubinsky. Blank, Ebner and Witz were all First-Team MVC honorees while Lubinsky was on the Second Team and Hutson was Honorable Mention. Ebner and Blank were also WHCA Honorable Mention All-State last year.
“Caleb and Tyler both had great seasons last year. Both bring a tremendous amount of experience to this year’s team. As a senior we will count on Caleb to provide us leadership on the ice. He is a great one-on-one competitor on the defensive side and has the ability to join in the rush and score. Caleb plays big in big games,” Coach Tim Ebner said. “Tyler is our top returning scorer from last year’s team who as a junior will be asked to take a leadership role both on and off the ice. He has the ability to score and has a high hockey IQ.”
The team has depth this season as it also returns senior defenseman Brendan Gargaro and sophomore forward Cameron Oberweiser. The team also has a few newcomers in junior forward Austin Manglitz, freshman forward Jacob Dirks and freshman goalie Hayes Weiner. All are expected to contribute and play key roles for this year’s team.
With all the talent at Onalaska, the Hilltoppers have been able to win the past four MVC conference championships and seven of the last nine, with two state tournament appearances during that time. A lot of this success can be attributed to great senior leadership. This season is no different, as the Hilltoppers roster contains nine seniors and eight juniors. That leadership will be key for the Hilltoppers as they go for their fifth straight conference championship.
“In the past we have had great senior leadership that has shown the underclassmen the way we do things as a program. We need great leadership both on and off the ice. This needs to be a close team,” Ebner said.
There are also many other ways that the team can be successful this season. The preparation starts in the offseason and continues as the season goes on.
“We have an extensive off ice program. Along with our weightlifting, puck handling and shooting programs, we also do yoga during the season,” Ebner said.
The Hilltoppers’ goals for the season remain the same as they always do: win a conference championship and get to the state tournament. They also hope to be playing their best hockey at the end of the year.
To do that, the team spends a lot of time developing individual player and position skills of the game. Other keys will be keeping everyone healthy, playing with consistent effort and balanced scoring. Defense will also be an important aspect of the Hilltoppers’ game.
“We hope to be a team that plays great in our defensive zone so we can be a puck possession team that likes to get up and down the ice,” Ebner said.
The Hilltoppers begin their season on November 24 when they travel to Viroqua.
Tag(s): Onalaska/La Crosse