Photos by Jeremy Mayo/River News
Danny Zuiker, right, receives the Alfred O. Baker Outstanding Hockey Player Award from coach M.J. Laggis while assistant coach Ethan Pequet watches during the Rhinelander High School boys’ hockey team banquet at Holiday Acres Resort Sunday, March 8.
Rhinelander High School boys’ hockey team award winners pose for a photograph following the team’s banquet Sunday, March 8 at Holiday Acres Resort. Pictured, from left to right, are Harrison Shinners, Max Spaulding, Danny Zuiker, Harlan Wojtusik and Joe Schneider. Award winner Conor Pequet was unavailable for the photograph.
3/19/2020 7:30:00 AM Zuiker wins Hodag hockey's Al Baker Award
The Rhinelander High School boys' hockey team handed out its year-end awards during a banquet Sunday, March 8 at Holiday Acres Resort.
Six players were recognized with team awards, the biggest of which was presented to Danny Zuiker, this year's recipient of the Alfred O. Baker Award, which honors the team's most outstanding senior.
Zuiker scored only one goal this year, but his 12 assists were tied for second-most on the team. Additionally, Zuiker was an anchor of Rhinelander's defensive unit and a key player in the team's power play.
The Al Baker Award is named in honor of Baker, who was the Hodags' head coach from 1949-1961 and lead the team to a high school state championship (pre-WIAA sanctioning) in 1959. The award has been presented annually since 1990.
"It's been a phenomenal award over the years," coach M.J. Laggis said. "Al Baker stood for absolute success, no doubt about it. He had the best winning percentage in Rhinelander. I'm proud of Danny. Just his overall play and what he's brought to the table, he's a great choice. He brought just a tremendous amount to our hockey team and I thought he had a fantastic season."
Danny Zuiker joined his older brother, Kurt (2016) as only the second pair of siblings to win the Al Baker award, joining Tyler and Alex Henkel, who won the award in 2009 and 2011, respectively. Danny Zuiker's cousin, Joe, shared the award in 2012 with Lucas Michlig.
The Al Baker wasn't the only award Zuiker received at the banquet. He also won the Blue Line Award as the team's best defenseman.
"He's a guy that, along with JC (Adams, was an absolute staple back there," Laggis said. "I thought long and hard about that one and I know I good decision with a senior that was our bread and butter. I can say how much I'm impressed with his catch to pass (interval), how quick he is right there and just a lethal shot. I have not had somebody better taking the puck up top, looking the goalie off and then shooting a pass to the back door. He's great at it ... I have nothing but great feelings about his season."
Six other awards were presented during the banquet, highlighted by the team's MVP award, which went to Harlan Wojtusik. Wojtusik led the team with 34 goals scored this season and added 11 assists.
"This is a guy that carried the load all year long," Laggis said. "When you see a kid grow as a person, that's more special than growing as a player. His demeanor in the locker room, outstanding. His ability to stay focused in the storm, that's just so hard to do. When things are going the roughest, that's when you've to have a plan ... This is a guy who can do that. He held our locker room together at moments, without a doubt and had a just huge year, production-wise."
Both of Wojtusik's linemates at season's end also received awards. Fellow junior Conor Pequet won the team's playmaker award and sophomore Joe Schneider was named the team's Mr. Hustle.
Pequet won the playmaker award with a team-high 32 assists this season. His 48 points overall on the season were also a team-best.
"He was all over the ice, all over the scoresheet on so many occasions," Laggis said. "When you have him and Harlan together, and then we added Joe to that mix, it was just combustable. There was just so much opportunity. When Conor had his A-game going, those were the nights he was distributing that puck and moving it fast. That's what he's going to have to do at the next level for sure."
Schneider, who bounced between forward and defenseman throughout the season, finished the campaign with 10 goals and 12 assists.
"This is a guy that finishes every single drill as fast as he can," Laggis said. "He plays that way in games. He brings incredible intensity to a drill by his effort. That's so hard to coach. You just can't coach that and when guys start doing that, the whole level of play improves drastically. This is a guy that's just an absolute worker and an competitor."
Two other seniors were honored with team awards as the banquet. Max Spaulding received the team's Hodag Award as well as the Hobey Baker Character Award.
"I had several candidates for this and I think it's a good sign when you are going through awards and you have a number of kids that fit it," Laggis said. "The Hodag award is really a guy is that out-of-season guy that you desperately need. I know I'm always banging on that drum, but it's the difference between winning 15-16 games and not. It's a guy that's always in the weight room, always paying attention to the little details. It's a guy that's always there thick or thin, rain or shine and giving you everything that he's got. Over the course of the last two years, I haven't seen many better than (him)."
Harrison Shinners won the team's most improved award. He finished the season with three goals and Laggis said he was impressed with Shinners' ability to overcome a late-season injury to return to the ice for what proved to be his final game - the team's overtime playoff loss at Mosinee.
"I can't say enough about a guy that battled back like that and finished it the right way. I'm super proud of him," he said.
The Hodags went 12-14-0 on the season and, despite finishing tied for sixth in the Great Northern Conference, upset Lakeland in the first round of the WIAA tournament and advance to the sectional round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
Freelancer Bob Mainhardt contributed to this report.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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