Comets’ top goal: Find a goalie
By Greg Seubert
A lot has happened since John Erspamer arrived at Waupaca High School in 1996 to teach history and coach the boys’ hockey team.
Twenty years later, Erspamer is now principal at the Waupaca Learning Center and is back to coach the Comets after a seven-year hiatus.
His first order of business is to find a replacement for four-year goalie Walker Smith.
“You’re only as good as your goalie,” he said before a recent practice at the Waupaca Ice & Expo Center.
“I have four guys and the competition is wide open,” he said. “The guy that can keep the little black thing in front of him is the guy that’s going to play. It’s not going to be goalie by committee. The one that can show us consistently in practice that they want to be the varsity starter and the one that gives us the best chance to win day in and day out will be the guy in the net.”
Returning players include seniors Max Menzies, Hunter Smith, Nick Grams and Drake Hiddemen.
“We have a group of sophomores that did really well last year and they need to make the next step,” Erspamer said. “It’s going to be senior leadership that helps them make that next step.”
Also back are sophomores Jack Menzies, Mitch Trzebiatowski and Cody Rasmussen.
“They’re bigger, they’re stronger, they’re faster,” Erspamer said. “I would say they’re going to be a fun line to watch.”
The Comets will compete in the Great Northern Conference with Antigo, Mosinee, Northland Pines, Lakeland, Tomahawk, Medford and Rhinelander.
“It’s still a blue-collar conference,” Erspamer said. “It’s one of the conferences where the team that works that works the hardest and takes the body is probably going to win. We’re going to work hard on our defensive end and hopefully win a lot of games 2-1, 3-2. That’s kind of the goal.”
He’d also like to see the Comets play physical hockey.
“I’m expecting our guys to finish their checks,” he said. “I’m expecting us to be one of the more physical teams. We’re going to take the body when it’s appropriate. I would say the kids have exceeded expectations as far as work ethic and what they bring to practice every day. That, to me, is probably more important than what they know about power plays and penalty kills. The fact that they’re willing to work, willing to listen and willing to learn has been really good so far.”
Although Erspamer stepped away from coaching the high school game, he coached Waupaca Area Youth Hockey Association teams the past few years. His son, Jack, is a now a freshman.
“It’s like being a first-year coach again,” he said. “I know a few of the kids, I know of the other kids, but I don’t really know them. We’re just starting to develop a relationship. They’re figuring me out as I’m figuring them out. That’s to be expected.”
Erspamer’s staff includes Ross Oestreich, Bob Menzies, Ryan Koski, Shawn Peskie, Brett Grams.
“I know the commitment that it takes and I was wondering if I had the energy and commitment myself,” he said. “After a couple of weeks here, the pilot light never went out. There’s a fire there.”
The Comets opened the season Nov. 22 at Black River Falls and traveled to Eagle River Nov. 26 for the Great Northern opener against Northland Pines.
“I’m looking for effort, I’m looking for guys willing to give a hit, take a hit and block some shots,” Erspamer said. “I’m looking for which kids are really playing this game because it’s their passion. Those are the kind of guys that are going to drive the rest of the team. I’m hoping the rest of the team will follow that lead.”
Waupaca Boys’ Hockey 2016-17 Schedule
Thursday, Nov. 17 – Scrimmage vs. Appleton United, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 22 – at Black River Falls, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 26 – at Northland Pines, 4 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 29 – at Wisconsin Rapids, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 3 – vs. Rhinelander, 5 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 6 – at Antigo, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 10 – at Ashwaubenon, 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 13 – at Pacelli, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 15 – at Medford, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 17 – vs. Lakeland, 5 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 20 – vs. Tomahawk, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 22 – at Green Bay East, 8:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 3 – at D.C. Everest, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Jan. 5 – at Shawano, 7 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 6 – vs. Mosinee at Community Parks Hockey Classic, Stevens Point, TBA.
Saturday, Jan. 7 – vs. Stevens Point or University School of Milwaukee at Community Parks Hockey Classic, Stevens Point, TBA.
Thursday, Jan. 12 – vs. Antigo, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 17 – vs. Mosinee, 7 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 20 – vs. Sun Prairie, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 21 – at Lakeland, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 28 – at Rhinelander, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 31 – vs. Medford, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 2 – at Tomahawk, 7 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 3 – vs. Bay Port, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 7 – vs. Marshfield, 7 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 10 – vs. Northland Pines, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 17 – Scrimmage vs. Appleton United, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 26 – at Northland Pines, 2 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 29 – at Wisconsin Rapids, 5 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 3 – vs. Rhinelander, 3 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 6 – at Antigo, 4:45 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 10 – at Ashwaubenon, 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 13 – vs. Shawano, 5 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 17 – vs. Lakeland, 2:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 20 – vs. Tomahawk, 4:45 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 3 – at D.C. Everest, 4:45 p.m.
Thursday, Jan. 12 – vs. Antigo, 4:45 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 17 – vs. Mosinee, 4:45 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 21 – at Lakeland, 5 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 28 – at Rhinelander, 5 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 2 – at Tomahawk, 4:45 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 3 – vs. Bay Port, 4 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 10 – vs. Northland Pines, 5 p.m.