Bringing brawn, brains to state
Thursday, March 13, 2014 7:00 PM
MARINETTE - There's a stereotype about hockey players - rough-and-tumble with missing teeth.
M&M Thunder’s Denin Bieberitz moves the puck away from the boards during a January home game against Milwaukee Pettit. Both teams will compete in the Wisconain Amateur Hockey Association Division 1 state tournament this weekend in Sun Prairie. EagleHerald/Jody Korch
WAHA State Tourney
Rock County vs. Kenosha, 6 p.m.
Milwaukee SHAW vs. M&M Thunder, 8 p.m.
Pettit vs. Stevens Point, 8 p.m.
M&M Thunder vs. Rock County, 10 a.m.
Kenosha vs. Pettit, noon
Stevens Point vs. SHAW, 2 p.m.
Pettit vs. M&M Thunder, 6 p.m.
Rock County vs. Stevens Point, 8 p.m.
SHAW vs. Kenosha, 8 p.m.
Third-place game, 10 a.m.
Championship game, noon
The M&M Thunder high school hockey team has a little rough-and-tumble, but the players have all of their teeth. And don't even try to insinuate that they're a bunch of dumb jocks.
Every member of the Thunder is on the honor roll, and most of the players made the high honor roll for the fall semester.
The Thunder is heading to Sun Prairie for the Wisconsin Amateur Hockey Association Division 1 state tournament, which starts tonight.
Win or lose, the hardest part of the weekend for co-head coaches Paul Aftanas and Frank Best will be saying good-bye to seniors Jake Swenson, Andy Swanson, Denin Bieberitz and Elizabeth Horn. Aftanas said he'll cry like a baby on Sunday when they're done with their final game.
"It's good to have those type of kids to coach, because it makes my job easy," Aftanas said. "Well, they're a band of brothers and two sisters. Great chemistry, got everyone's back."
Other team members include Easton Arsineau, Brendon Kriedeman, Luke Kraus, Gunther DeDamos, Cole Theisen, Zak Giese, Drew Christensen, Hunter Mans, Carson Lovedale, Morgan Florek and Tyler Oleson.
Horn, the Menominee High School valedictorian, says she's excited but sad about the career-ending state tourney.
"I can't believe it's over, 14 years of hockey," Horn said. "But I'm excited."
Swenson and Bieberitz have one final shot at gold after playing on state runner-up Thunder teams the past two seasons.
"We're going to the tourney, and our goal is to take first," Swenson said. "We're gonna have to play our positions, be physical and forecheck and backcheck."
The fifth-seeded Thunder will open state tourney play tonight at 8 against its archrival, No. 2 seed Milwaukee SHAW. After defeating SHAW in the state semifinals in 2012, the Thunder was roughed up by SHAW in last year's lopsided state title game.
"If we're on, we're gonna win," Aftanas said.
The rivalry with SHAW dates back more than 20 years, when Aftanas tended the nets for the Thunder.
"It's been going on and going on and going on," he said. "They're on the wrong side of the railroad tracks in Milwaukee, that's all I can say."
The Thunder will play No. 1 seeded Rock County Saturday at 10 a.m., and then will play Milwaukee Pettit at 6 p.m. The title game will be held Sunday at noon.
"What we have to focus on is the defensive end," Aftanas said. "We have to forecheck and backcheck, and we'll be fine. It's gonna take a team effort, it's gonna take a lot of heart, but it can be done."
The six-team state tourney is divided into three-team divisions. A point system will determine the two top teams, who will meet in the finals. The scoring format is two points per win, one per tie, none for a loss and one point for each period won. The tiebreaker format is lengthy, but easy for a bunch of honor roll students to ascertain.
The smarts come in handy on the ice, too. Horn says it helps the players work and communicate well together.
"It allows all of us to read what's going on on the ice," Swenson said. "It helps each other because we know what each other is going to do."
The Thunder state tourney games will be broadcast on WMAM 570 AM.