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Kealy takes helm for Wildcat hockey

The new Wildcat boys' hockey coaching staff includes, from left, assistant coach Sam Pilney, head coach Mike Kealy, junior varsity head coach and goalie coach Willie Riedel, assistant coach Ryan Purfeerst and assistant coach Alex Hauge. <i>Bob Burrows photo</i>

Mike Kealy is no stranger to River Falls hockey.

A former Wildcat himself, Kealy has coached at every level of the River Falls Youth Hockey Association, including guiding Pee Wee and Bantam teams to state titles in 2004 and 2005, and serving as RFYHA board president from April, 2009 to April 2012.

So when Kealy stepped on the ice as the Wildcats' new head coach Monday, Nov. 5, he was more than ready for the job.

"I've wanted this for so long," Kealy said. "Monday, the first day of practice, I realized it's finally real. It was like an out-of-body experience."

Kealy, a technology teacher in the Woodbury School district the last 15 years, takes over the Wildcats from Brooks Lockwood, who left River Falls after two seasons to take the head coaching job at his alma mater Hudson. He said so far he likes what he sees.

"I'm so excited," he said. "We had tryouts Monday through Wednesday and it went very smooth. The kids are working their tails off; everything has been great. It's a very nice group of young men."

In addition to coaching RFYHA teams, Kealy was also the head coach of the Baldwin-Woodville boys from 2001-03 and head coach of the Hudson girls' from 2003-05. But he said he's always had his eyes on coming back to coach his old high school team.

"I've had a long time to prepare for this moment," he said. "I want to thank (RFHS activities director) Rollie Hall for this opportunity."

While Kealy has never coached this particular group of Wildcat players he's seen them play plenty of times, and believes the foundation is there for a successful season.

"Between our energy and our depth and the overall excitement, I think they are very fired up," he said about the players. "They get along very, very well and respect each other and that's big. I think the biggest thing I see right now is the excitement of the players to work hard. Their work ethic has been great."

Kealy said a number of players have impressed him in the early going.

"We've got talent," he said. "Casey Jerry -- he is the leader of the team right now. I believe he is one of the top 10 players in the state, if not one of the top five. We've got a very good corps of defensemen I'd put up against anybody -- Connor Maxwell, Jack Benusa, Sam Shafer, and Mason Woiwode. These guys can keep up with anybody we are playing."

Kealy said he is also excited about his coaching staff, which includes former Wildcats Ryan Purfeerst and Sam Pilney, assistant junior varsity coach Alex Hauge, and head JV coach and goaltending coach Willie Riedel, a four-year starter in high school at Hudson.

"I give my assistant coaches a lot of responsibility," Kealy said. "And I will try and get the alumni involved. I want these alumni to come around and know they are always welcome back."

Kealy said his goal is to put a competitive team on the ice every time the Wildcats play.

"I want to see high energy and physical play; great discipline and create chances. That's what I ask out of this whole program," he said. "They should enjoy coming to the rink; they should enjoy playing the game."

He said he's been impressed with the chemistry on the team as well.

"These kids are so much further ahead than where I thought they would be," he said. "Great team chemistry leads to great team success. Right now they have great chemistry."

The Cats open the 2012-13 season Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 7 p.m. at Baldwin-Woodville.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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