The winter sports season has begun and with that, many sports worked on their skills during the first days of practice.
Boys’ hockey hit the rink at the Lakeland Ice Arena in Minocqua. Here, practice revolved around passing and transition.
Practice was divided into numerous sections. After one exercise, the team would re-group for a meeting and then another exercise would break out.
“Just kinda of getting the kids back on the ice, getting them used to being out there again,” coach Jake Suter said. “The kids worked hard at it and it was a good skate.”
The next exercise encompassed a trio of players. Players would pass in a triangle formation before someone taking a shot on net.
The offense worked on their own without any defenders. Next up, the defense came out to defend some of the shots. Each of these drills really helped set the tone for the season to come.
“We have certain goals, really improving each day,” Suter said. “We have a scrimmage and a game coming up real soon, getting the kids comfortable, getting them in a groove again and just seeing improvement.”
Two players came down the ice with the puck as two other players tried to prevent them from scoring.
Toward the end of practice, a fun exercise broke out. With the entire team forming an oval close to the net, coach Suter would drop a puck as four players would fight for it. It was a battle for the puck to see who could sneak one into the net.
Only a few shots were scored as players worked on fighting for possession of the puck.
The last thing they did came in a little three-on-three and two-on-two scrimmage using half of the rink. A puck was dropped and players went after it, using their teammates to try and score, something they look to improve upon from last season.
“Last year we were a younger team, we’re a little bit older this year,” Suter said. “We’re going to focus on new systems in the offensive zone that assistant coach Gary Olson is going to be working on with the forwards and we’re excited about it.”
Taking advantage of time in the gym, the Thunderbirds worked on two-a-days, having practice in the morning and at night.
At 6 a.m., the focus was on defense. The Thunderbirds like to use a pressure of defense and they worked on that along with some transition exercises.
As most practices go, the morning started with a variety of dribbling. Everyone took a turn at dribbling the ball up and down the court.
That led to passing but with a twist — the ball couldn’t hit the ground. Using a trio of players, everyone passed the ball from one side of the court, to the other without the ball hitting the ground, focusing on quick transitional passing.
“I gear every practice around conditioning, fast break, fast transitions, and attacking. I’m not the sit-back-and-wait coach,” coach Melissa Ouimette said. “We just have this attack mentality.”
They did the same thing but this time, the last player would take a dribble and make a layup.
After the transitional work, Ouimette had the girls work on closing out.
One player would get the ball at the 3-point line. The other player would quickly close out on her and prevent any type of shot from going in. Once a shot was taken, rebounding was emphasized, something the Thunderbirds want to get better at this season.
“We’re going to try and work on some man-to-man this year and become more aggressive and better rebounders so that’s what we’re working on right now,” Ouimette said.
Once everyone had gone through it a few times, a three-on-three exercise broke out. It was three-on-three but no screens could be set. This would work on communication, rebounding and boxing out.
“I want to be able to have an aggressive man-to-man defense, an aggressive zone defense, our fast break in and a good man-to-man offense and a good zone offense and our press break,” Ouimette said.
The final defensive item they worked on was closing out on passing. The Thunderbirds want to force their opponent to the outside. Defenders worked on closing out on their matchup as the offense passed the ball around from side-to-side.
As the Thunderbirds worked on their defense in the morning, the offense would be on deck for the afternoon.
“This afternoon is going to be a continuation of defense and some more of our offense. We’re going to keep building on stuff. You got to take small steps and build it up,” Ouimette said.
All this work is in preparation for a scrimmage tonight.
“We’ve got to be ready to see anything that is going to be thrown at us because we play three teams on Friday,” Ouimette said. “I’m not putting all the fancy-fancy quick little plays, but I’m putting in the offenses and defenses and the fast break.”
There may not be much snow on the ground, but that didn’t stop the Lakeland Nordic ski team from hitting the trails and getting a practice in on Nov. 6.
“It’s always a frustrating time of year because dryland training is hard when you’re a skier,” coach Erich Kern said.
Kern led a number of students who were out getting their form down on the grassy hills of Schlect Lake Trails.
“The goal for today is just to get everybody on the same boat,” he said. “Some kids have been training more, some kids haven’t, we’re just here to get the team out for the first day, start to get them fit, look at some technique, and see what everybody is bringing to the table.”
Practice started with some light stretching, making sure everyone was loose before going into a variation of exercises.
The first exercise on the trails came with bounding. Students were to hop or bound from side to side in a zig-zag motion as they made their way up a hill. This is all part of the first week of training.
“Just to see the level everybody is at, see what I have for different ski abilities and make a decision on how I’m going to run future practices,” Kern said.
After that, students grabbed their poles and did some pole bounding up the hill. They did this many times in order to get the form down and get a feel with the poles.
Once that exercise was completed, students broke into two groups and did some pole hiking, hiking through the trails with the form they just practiced, building chemistry and comradery.
This final exercise of pole hiking lasted about half hour as students worked on their craft.
In total, the practice lasted about an hour and finished up before darkness set in.
One thing students have done and will continue to do is dryland training. This can be done through several things like rollerskiing.
“We put on long roller blades, poles are about the same and you can rollerski on pavement,” Kern said.
Along with rollerskiing, training and getting in shape is important to get ready for the new season.
“Hill bounding like this, working on even bigger hills like out at Minocqua Winter Park, trying to mimic a ski motion on dry land, running, some weight fitness, some circuit fitness,” Kern said.
When the snow does come, even the slightest amount can help with training.
“As soon as we get snow, we get on some short grass because you can actually ski on frozen grass a little bit,” Kern said.
Snow or no snow, the Lakeland Nordic ski team is out and about, training and perfecting their craft.
Brett LaBore may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]