Losing your best player and your head coach days before the season would generally be considered not ideal.
That scenario unfolded for the Appleton United boys’ hockey team this year, but the group has thus far proven it is well-equipped to handle sudden change.
“It was difficult learning, having a new coach, but most of the guys put in a lot of work over the summer and we’re giving 100 percent effort moving forward,” said Brady Seeliger, a senior forward for United from Appleton North.
“That didn’t determine our season or determine how we’re going to play. We were confident we’d be in a good position either way.”
Cooper Watson left the team for the opportunity to play at the Junior A level in Waterloo, Iowa. His father, Cliff, with a son playing at Michigan Tech and Cooper in Iowa, decided he could no longer fulfill his duties as head coach. So in stepped Mike Brolsma, a former United and minor-league player.
“It’s an opportunity for everybody,” said Brolsma, who was set to become an assistant coach for United this season.
“It’s an opportunity for younger players to step up in a leadership role, to play a shutdown role that Cooper would have played, and opportunity for other defensemen to step up on the ice and in the locker room. They looked to Cooper, in terms of how to play the game and how to act. He’s about as well-rounded a kid as you could possibly get.
“But the core group of guys in the locker room have been fantastic. They’re good kids. They want to win and to learn. They have great drive and a desire to play the game and not worry about all that other stuff. As a coach, you just want to teach the system and all the other trinkets of the game that make it a lot more fun. It’s fun to coach that way and not have to worry about all that other stuff.”
So far so good for United, as it’s tied for second place in the Badgerland Conference at 2-1-1 and is 4-1-1 overall.
“I’m most proud of how everyone is coming together as a team and putting forth their best effort as a team, not just one person,” said Seeliger.
“We still want to get down to state and compete very well this year. Nothing has changed. Even though Coop left, all our goals have pretty much stayed the same. Everybody is focused on doing their job and making the team as good as possible.”
Even though Watson is gone, he has the full support of his former teammates.
“All the guys are excited for Cooper,” said Seeliger. “It’s a phenomenal opportunity and not once did anyone think he shouldn’t go. We’re all very happy for him.”
It’s been a somewhat trying time for Brolsma, but he said his wife Amanda, Cliff Watson and booster clubs have all assisted with the transition.
But Brolsma said the attitude of the team has helped ease the most pressing anxiety.
“We’re still a very talented group,” he said. “And when you have 20 guys working together, it’s more powerful than any small group or individual. That’s evident in any organization. Anytime you get a group of guys to come together as one and have a specific goal to achieve, it’s the most powerful thing.”