Verona boys hockey team delivers on expectations
At the start of the season, Verona boys hockey coach Joel Marshall wondered if the people who put out the state rankings thought too highly of his team.
After all, the 2018 WIAA state semifinalists lost two of their best players — first-team All-Big Eight Conference forward Brockton Baker and second-team All-Big Eight forward Mason McCormick — to graduation and the United States Hockey League.
“Online polls (had) us maybe higher than we could or should be at (that) point in the season,” Marshall said early on. “Maybe they were expecting us to have those guys back, as well.”
As it turns out, the pollsters were right on the money. Verona nears the season’s midpoint with an overall 9-0-2 record, 7-0-0 mark in the Big Eight and the state’s No. 1 ranking.
Early on, Marshall said he thought Verona could ride the strength of its defensive core to a top-10 state ranking and, possibly, return to the state tournament.
The leader of that defensive core, captain Jake Osiecki, is equally optimistic.
“We still have four lines top to bottom that can compete,” said Osiecki, who leads a defense that has given up 21 goals in 11 games, including two shutouts. Osiecki also has two goals and seven assists.
“We won’t necessarily have a player we can look at in order to score all of our goals. We’ll have to all come as a group and play in order for us to have success,” Osiecki said.
Marshall’s team has played to ties with fourth-ranked Green Bay Notre Dame and perennial state contender Waukesha North co-op. Verona has outscored seven Big Eight opponents by a combined 45-8.
Minus the scoring punch of Baker and McCormick, junior Mack Keryluk has stepped up to produce 21 goals and 13 assists.
Hockey success runs in the family for Osiecki. His father, Mark, is associate head coach at the University of Wisconsin, and served as the Badgers’ defensive coach when they won their most recent NCAA championship in 2006.
According to Marshall, a large part of Jake’s success comes from his skills being learned and honed at home — especially his development as a defensive anchor for the Wildcats.
“He was an offensive forward basically his whole career, until two or three years ago,” Marshall said. “He plays a more offensive role as a defenseman … maybe from the home front, (taught by) one of the best defenseman coaches in the country.”
Osiecki also has spent the past two years playing with Team Wisconsin, one of the state’s premier hockey clubs. Some of his Team Wisconsin teammates are players he’ll go up against with the Wildcats.
“It’s a team you play for before and after the high school season, and it’s made up of some of the top players from across Wisconsin,” Osiecki said.
Osiecki and Verona are in for a battle to defend their conference championship, though the Wildcats already defeated three of their top challengers—Sun Prairie, Madison Memorial and Madison West.
Marshall pointed to Memorial’s Parker Lindauer, a Northern Michigan recruit, as one of the big threats to Verona’s title defense. But the Wildcats’ opponents can’t be expecting it to come easy.
“We still have some offensive punch in Keryluk, Walker Haessig (13 goals, 10 assists) and Cale Rufenacht (five goals, 18 assists), top returning scorers for us that are arguably just as good as anybody,” Marshall said.
As for the rest of the season? Osiecki has high expectations.
“I think we can win conference again and win sectionals too,” Osiecki said. “The Big Eight’s going to be really good this year, but I think we definitely have a chance at making it back to the Coliseum. There’s no doubt in my mind.”