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Veteran captains lead Dells Ducks to Minnesota Division title

02/27/2014, 5:45pm EST
By Tom Robinson - Special to USAHockey.com

With 10 players returning to the Dells Ducks this season, coach Bill Zaniboni had no doubt who he wanted leading his Minnesota Junior Hockey League team: defenseman Jacob Stima.

“We talked to Jacob over the summer and named him captain in our first training camp in July,” Zaniboni said.

The Ducks have gotten the results Zaniboni was seeking.

With Stima leading the way — he is tied for third in the division in scoring despite playing defense — Dells has clinched the Minnesota League Minnesota Division title.

Stima has piled up 22 goals — seven on the power play and five game-winners — while adding 38 assists in 38 games. He left the team long enough to play two Tier II junior games with the North American Hockey League’s Janesville Jets in September, but moved right back into his leadership role upon his return.

“He’s had no remorse for coming back and leading this team,” Zaniboni said. “He’s a special teams guy.

“He’s a game-changer.”

Stima would like to help the Ducks change their postseason results.

“We have 10 guys back from last year when we were a goal away from going to nationals,” said the 20-year-old from Roscoe, Ill. who also served as a captain in his youth and high school days. “We still have that bitter taste in our mouths. We all know what it feels like and don’t want it to happen again.

“We want to make nationals and represent ourselves well at nationals.”

Stima is helping the Ducks surge toward the finish with seven goals and 14 assists in an 11-game winning streak. That includes three goals and four assists in a 9-3 win over the Rochester Ice Hawks on Feb. 8.

After clinching the division title with Friday’s 6-2 victory over the Hudson Crusaders, the Ducks proved they were not ready to slow down when Stima had three assists in Saturday’s 6-0 win over the Crusaders.

“I think the biggest thing for our success this year is our veteran leadership from our four captains,” Zaniboni said. “They’re all veterans from last year. They’ve been to the finals and they had it taken away from them.

“It fuels the belly a little bit and, for most of these guys, this is their last year.”

Layne Martin, Joey Bower and Collin Cross serve as the alternate captains.

Martin, 20, from Findlay, Ohio, leads the division in assists (45) and points (64). He played seven games with the Soo Eagles during the first half of the 2012-13 NAHL season.

“He came down with one of the most humble attitudes you find out of a Tier II guy coming to Tier III,” said Zaniboni, who praised Martin for being an outstanding student who works long hours at night to pay for his junior hockey and try to open up a college opportunity.

Bower, a 20-year-old from Crystal Lake, Ill., has committed to St. Mary’s University in Minnesota. He has shown big improvement in consistency from last year, producing 20 goals and 28 assists in 43 games.

While Zaniboni discussed his team, which is 36-5-0-2 with a league-low 101 goals allowed, Bower was on the ice helping coach youth hockey players.

Cross is the youngest of the captains. The 19-year-old from Simsbury, Conn. has committed to play Division III hockey at Framingham State in Massachusetts. He has seven points in 33 games.

“He’s one of the most intense individuals I’ve ever met,” Zaniboni said. “He’s a workhorse on and off the ice.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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