The WNS Storm hockey team's hard work and determination paid off Saturday night, when a victory over the Waukesha Wings sent the team to its first state tournament in program history.
The fourth-seeded Storm upset the second-seeded Waukesha co-op team 4-3 at the Nagawaukee Ice Center in Delafield Saturday night, improving the team's record to 22-4-1. The Storm qualified for the sectional finals game after a 3-2 victory over first-seeded Kettle Moraine Tuesday night.
With the win, the North Shore co-op team advances to a quarterfinal game against Eau Claire Memorial (20-6-1) at 6 p.m. Thursday in Madison. The winner of that game will advance to the state semifinals Friday to play either Superior (18-7-1) or Fond du Lac (22-3-2).
After four years of coaching with the program, Maco Balkovec said this year's team is particularly special to him, because they were freshmen during his first year of coaching and teaching at Whitefish Bay High School.
"This is the most fun I've ever had coaching," he said. "To take this group and these nine seniors to state is incredibly rewarding."
The WNS Storm is a co-op hockey team made up of athletes from Whitefish Bay, Nicolet and Shorewood high schools. Because they all attend different schools, Balkovec said he made an effort to get the boys to play as a team and value the contributions that each individual brings to the table.
"The key was to get enough young men to buy into the idea that we are all in this together, we are not individuals with individual goals, but a collective group that accomplish amazing things when we work as one, so we came up with the idea of the Brotherhood," Balkovec said. "...We created an atmosphere of mutual respect and love for each other and these guys have bought in, and as a result, we have seen the tremendous success that we are having, and we're not done."
The Storm's ascendance to the state tournament is something of a Cinderella story, as they were seeded fourth in their sectional bracket. Balkovec said the low expectations only fueled the boys to prove the prep hockey world wrong.
"Those are the things that you never forget and are examples of how we can use negative things in our lives and turn them into positives that end up bringing us an even greater joy and a sense of purpose," Balkovec said.
As for their post-season hopes and expectations, Balkovec said the boys are just hungry to keep the season alive.
"We're only focusing on one thing: playing one more day. That's all we want," Balkovec said. "We want to go out and give everything we've got, and earn one more day on the ice."