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A brotherhood on the ice, WNS hockey team bolts out to 9-1 start

Huge NSC game against Homestead on Saturday

Dec. 18, 2012

Having been the former coach of the single-school Homestead team, WNS Storm mentor Maco Balkovec has not always been a fan of big, multi-school hockey co-ops.

But over the last few years of working with the WNS program, that represents players from Whitefish Bay, Nicolet and Shorewood, his attitude has changed. An excellent 9-1 start to the new campaign has helped, but there's more behind it than just a few victories.

"This is my fifth year with the program," he said, "and this year's seniors represent the first full group I've worked with from freshmen on up. … And it's a great group. The challenge I had when I took over the program was to get kids who were committed into building a brotherhood and a community of hockey.

"We're giving them the opportunity to build life lessons, make them better students, better people. And this group has taken that all in. They know that everyone needs each other here. That that's the only way we're going to be successful."

And how.

The Storm, who will look to take another step toward a North Shore Conference title when they host Homestead at the kern Center on the MSOE campus in Milwaukee at 2 p.m. Saturday, have only a close loss to state power Arrowhead (5-4) as a blemish, and went and beat always tough Kenosha (8-0) on its home ice.

They continued moving forward Monday, with a 7-1 rout of nonconference opponent Greendale on Monday.

The team's camaraderie can be seen in the starting lineup as all three schools are represented.

Senior captain Thomas Aiken of Whitefish Bay anchors the defense and he's joined on that line by fellow Bay senior Andy Keith. Another Bay student, junior Colin Downing, is the top sub on the back line.

Up top, senior assistant captains Djordje Torbica (Shorewood) and Andy Krugler (Bay) work alongside another Shorewood senior Drew Kneisel and in goal is Nicolet sophomore Sean Leahy.

"Like I said, in the past, my views of co-ops have been negative, but now, in hindsight, I see it as giving kids an opportunity," said Balkovec. "These are three small communities and they have pulled together into one and that's how we teach it and how we coach it is as a brotherhood.

"In the last four years, I've never had a team as close as this one."

To that end, he points to the fact that he frequently has to kick the players out of practice because they just want to stay and stay and stay and to the frequent cases of self-sacrifice he sees on the ice.

Senior third-line center Jack Hoge of Bay is a prime example of that concept.

"He accepts a diminished role and ice time, but he does his job very well and so we reward him with shifts on the power play," Balkovec said. "He's a guy we need as much as the first lines."

Balkovec is looking forward to the rest of the season, especially the conference end of it. The Storm enter the contest with a 3-0 mark in league play with wins over Grafton (11-1), Cedarburg (5-1) and Germantown/Menomonee Falls (6-0).

"We don't try to hide it (talking about the conference title)," he said. "Saturday (with Homestead) is a big game. We're also going to have the conference tourney at the end of January and the beginning of February again. It worked well last year (for the league) and we're hoping to build on it."

Like the team did Monday night. The Storm fell behind 1-0 after one period to Greendale, but then exploded for four second-period goals to take control of the game senior Nick Sullivan (assists to senior Peter Davis and sophomore Oskar Bjornstad), Krugler (Aiken), Keith (Torbica and Aiken) and Aiken (Sullivan) all found the back of the net in that session.

In the third period, Kneisel, Krugler (Kneisel) and Davis (Sullivan) all added insurance goals as Leahy made 23 saves.

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