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December 6, 2019

Goalie Garrett Kulhanek attempts to cover a puck in front of Jake Losch during Rhinelander High School boys’ hockey team practice at the Rhinelander Ice Arena Tuesday, Nov. 12. (Photos by Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
Goalie Garrett Kulhanek attempts to cover a puck in front of Jake Losch during Rhinelander High School boys’ hockey team practice at the Rhinelander Ice Arena Tuesday, Nov. 12. (Photos by Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
Rhinelander High School girls’ basketball coach Ryan Clark addressess his team following morning practice at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium Monday, Nov. 11.
Rhinelander High School girls’ basketball coach Ryan Clark addressess his team following morning practice at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium Monday, Nov. 11.
11/14/2019 7:30:00 AM
Winter practice notebook
Snow strands coach Laggis from first hockey practice

Jeremy Mayo
Sports Editor

When the Rhinelander High School boys' hockey team began its first practice Monday afternoon, coach M.J. Laggis was in a vehicle a couple of hours away from Rhinelander.

Blinding snow in the upper Great Plains delayed Laggis' return to Rhinelander following a trip late last week to Helena, Montana. Laggis informed the team Monday morning, while still in North Dakota, that he'd be unable to attend to the first session.

"I think it was the first time in 24 years (that I missed the first day)," Laggis said Tuesday. "I've missed two practices lifetime, and that was one of them. Once I was sicker than a dog with the flu, then yesterday. That was a difficult situation driving but, coach (Joe) Pequet had it under control and they had a good first day. That's just the way it goes."

Laggis was in Montana for a good reason. He was watching his son, Abe, play for the Helena Bighorns of the NA3HL, a Tier 3 junior hockey league. Abe is a senior and was eligible to return for the Hodags this winter, but instead has opted to stay in Montana as he pursues a goal of playing collegiately.

Coach Laggis said it's bittersweet not being able to coach his oldest son one last season.

"It's one of those deals, if you would have asked me when he was 4 and I was teaching him how to skate if this was how it was going to end between us, I would have said, 'No way, we're going to end it together here.' That's not the way it worked out," he said. "As a dad, I'm bummed beyond words but, as a hockey coach, I just have to coach the guys that are here and be there for them and be very productive."

As for those who are there, the team has roughly 20 skaters. That's slightly lower than the past few years which makes fielding a JV team a dicey proposition. Coach Laggis attributed the dip in part to a number of freshmen electing to play their final year of bantam hockey at the club level instead of moving up to the high school squad.

"We're working through this week and seeing what the numbers end up looking like by the end of the week," he said. "Then we'll have to make some hard decisions on whether we have any JV schedule at all or not. Right now, it doesn't look real promising."

Laggis said it was clear that a number of the players were in early-season form during the first couple of practices. The remainder of this week and next week will be spent primarily on skill work with some offensive and defensive systems sprinkled in. Laggis said the major points of emphasis will be moving, catching and passing the puck.

"I know that sounds like such a basic thing but, when you watch good hockey teams, they make three good passes in a row and that's something we're not doing right now," he said. "We've got to make a pass, catch a pass and then do it again, repeat it two, three times. If you can catch two passes, you've got a scoring chance if you think about it. You're going to get a scoring chance. We've got to keep working on that."

The Hodags scrimmage Wausau East/Merrill at the Rhinelander Ice Arena next Thursday and will open the regular season against Lakeland at the RIA Nov. 26.

As for other teams that began practice this week:

Girls' hoops gets to the heart of the matter

At the very beginning of its first practice of the season, the RHS girls' basketball team was put to the test.

It wasn't a pen and paper exam or a series of basketball drills. The test came with a device the players had placed around their torsos.

As the team did several times last year, it wore heart rate monitors during practice to gauge where each player was at aerobically.

"It confirmed they are working hard, but just that they hit their threshold pretty early getting up and down and we'll need to extend that as the season goes on," coach Ryan Clark said.

The monitors relayed information to a computer that registered each player's heart rate as a percentage of their maximum heart rate. For a team that likes to press and move quickly up and down the court, conditioning is key and the monitors provide another way to evaluate each player's stamina.

"The big thing about it, and what I like about it, is it shows, No. 1 you're more limited by your beliefs than your ability. It shows if you're really exerting that much. If your body says you're only at 75 percent (of maximum heart rate), you can give a little bit more," Clark said. "Or it shows you're pushing 90 percent and you're at your limit (for optimal performance)."

"The real important thing for us, for our style of play, is our recovery time," Clark added. "I've got a good idea who needs 2-3 minutes of sub rest and who can recover in 30 seconds. We'll try to make those numbers get lower and lower."

Per usual, the Hodags are getting in a lot of work during the first week of practice. The varsity is holding morning practices four days this week to go along with four afternoon practices before the team heads to Wisconsin Dells on Saturday for a multi-team scrimmage.

With a good chunk of the rotation returning from last year's Great Northern Conference championship squad, the team was able to hit the ground running Monday morning.

"It was pretty smooth, actually, just because everyone that's here has been with me for a couple years or more. They just kind of know the routine. They work hard. We didn't have to explain too much," Clark said.

Rhinelander will scrimmage Melrose-Mindoro, Wisconsin Dells, Eau Claire North and Holmen in the event at JustAgame Fieldhouse.

"It's teams we'll never play during the season, but it will be very good competition. That will be good for us to, at the end of the week, see where we measure up," Clark said.

The Hodags open the season at home against Merrill next Thursday.

Gymnasts eager to improve

The RHS gymnastics team has nearly four weeks before its first competition of the season, but the team hit the ground running on Monday.

Coach Heather Sturtevant said much of the squad has picked up from where it left off a season ago.

"The girls are ready coming in with a great attitude," she said. "They wanted to work. They wanted to condition. Probably three quarters came up independently with new goals that they want for the season. They want to improve, not just on what they are doing, but at least one or two new skills for the season."

The team didn't have an extensive summer program, with roughly three weeks between late July and early August when the apparatus were set up in the James Williams Middle School gymnasium. Still Sturtevant said the team used their camp and open gym time effectively. A majority of the girls picked out music and outlined their floor exercise routines over the summer and did enough to maintain their skills over the offseason.

"Today a lot of them really looked really good. Most of them came in during the summer," she said. "I think that helped. We didn't have as long of a break. On floor, they were doing the tumbling passes we were ending the season with and they were nailing them today.

"I think we're at a really nice starting point. We're not playing as much catch-up."

Numbers will be low for the Hodags again this year, with a roster of 11 girls. Barring any late additions or subtractions, the team will have two seniors, three juniors, three sophomores and three freshmen.

"We're going to be a small team again, but that's OK," Sturtevant said. "My biggest goal is for us to be a nice, supportive unit and, again, really going for those personal bests and personal accomplishments. Every girl knows we need them. They're not going to be hiding out sitting on the bench. We're going to be putting them in somewhere."

The Hodags will start the season with an invitational at Medford Dec. 7.

Nordic skiers reaching critical mass

Following its first practice of the season, Hodag Nordic ski coach Charil Reis said, half-jokingly, she wouldn't not know what to do if the team grew any larger than its current size.

A team that could barely field a varsity squad when Reis took over six seasons ago has become a throng, 30 skiers strong.

"This is perhaps the largest team in recorded history for Nordic skiing at Rhinelander High School," she said, adding that there are roughly another 20 skiers in the middle school ranks.

That's up from 24 high school skiers last year, a year in which Reis said she and her coaching staff experienced some "growing pains" in terms of how conducting practice. It's a good problem for the team to have, and one the Hodags plan to address with more numbers from the coaching side.

Reis and her assistant, Jim Wood, are back to lead the team and Reis said the two will take a "divide and conquer" approach to the group this season, separating the varsity-caliber skiers from the rest of the squad so that each group can get training better suited to their ability levels.

Reis said the team will have plenty of help, with roughly 9-10 coaches and volunteers between the middle and high school ranks. In particular, the coaching staff has one addition with a strong pedigree in Matt Nichols. He won the Wisconsin Nordic Ski League individual state title in 2010 and was the runner-up in 2011 skiing for Wausau East/West. He's now a science instructor at James Williams Middle School.

"He is a really good technician," Reis said. "I've seen him roller ski and I try to channel my inner Matt Nichols when I roller ski because I can see what he's doing that makes the skis move faster with seemingly not a whole lot of effort. I think he's going to be able to just teach the technique in terms that make sense to him that I've never heard before. So that if it's said a little bit differently, they're going to pick up on it, both boys and girls."

The team spent Monday indoors doing exercises and going over clerical items. Tuesday was the first outdoor practice of the year and, with the temperature hovering in the mid-teens, Mother Nature greeted the skiers with an early taste of winter.

"It's been awhile since we've started our season with snow on the ground. It's got people in the spirit. They're ready to work hard outside," she said. "We're going to be outside, it's going to be cold, but I think we're going to be on snow and on skis a lot faster than we've been in previous years."

Reis noted the team may take a trip north to the ABR trails near Ironwood, Mich. or the WinMan trails in northwestern Vilas County to get in some early season skiing as those areas have been impacted with several inches of lake effect snow as a result of the early-November cold snap. The ABR trails will be the site of the Hodags' first race of the season Dec. 7.

Jeremy Mayo may be reached at

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