When Aven Gruner moved from Alaska to Stoughton last year, she had no idea a red light would challenge her passion for hockey.
As a new face in an unfamiliar place, Gruner found a home as a goaltender for the Icebergs girls hockey co-op. However, the past eight months proved to be a challenge and that red light has been the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenge wasn’t trying to make new friends or fit in during an unusual virtual learning school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It was sitting at home and not getting a chance to be on the ice.
“It feels good to be back on the ice,” Gruner said. “Things were starting to get boring not being on the ice.”
Gruner wanted to play hockey her sophomore season at SHS as she pursues a chance to play in college. She along with many of her Iceberg girls hockey teammates joined the DC Diamonds U19 Red team that consisted of players from the Icebergs, Cap City Cougars and Madison Metro Lynx. The players hail from Oregon, Stoughton, McFarland, Deerfield, Monona Grove, Sun Prairie, Waunakee and the Madison area.
“It’s really nice a coach reached out to me and asked me to play club hockey because I don’t know all of the coaches yet,” Gruner said. “Being able to play club hockey against good competition with so many others helps me sharpen my skills. It helps me further my career.”
Furthering her career as a hockey player was one of the goals of Stoughton senior forward Sydney Schipper.
Schipper committed to play hockey at Division III Marian University in Fond du Lac next year and also agreed to play with the DC Diamonds.
“I chose to play club hockey because I wanted a season,” she said. “I didn’t know if there would be a high school season. I chose club (hockey) because I wanted a guarantee I could play and I could work to improve for next year.”
Games are prohibited from being played in Dane County because of the gathering restrictions from Public Health Madison and Dane County. Gatherings indoors are limited to 10 or less and outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 people bare less. It was eight months since Oregon senior forward Izzy Newton played in a hockey game that included a month-long indoor gathering ban. Club hockey was the perfect fit for Newton and her teammates.
“I don’t want to ruin my senior year,” Newton said. “Being able to play hockey still makes the year better. “I chose them because they are better and I knew we weren’t going to be able to play high school. We travel a lot more and play more competitive teams.”
The DC Diamonds (6-6) have been playing two to four games a week all on the road. The game on the ice has gone on, but with more safety measures to protect against the spread of COVID-19. Players are required to wear masks on and off the ice. Many players also wear full face shields and game days are socially distanced in locker rooms as players gear up.
“It’s not that big of a deal because a lot of the players already wear the bubble,” Newton said of the face shield. “It makes it a lot harder to breathe. I will do anything to play hockey.”
Many of Schipper and Newton’s teammates were rivals last season of the Cap City Cougars, the hockey co-op for Sun Prairie and Waunakee.
Schipper said she really enjoys combining forces on the ice.
Players are responsible for transportation to games. There is no bus or van used for transporting the team.
“We get along really well,” she said. “It’s nice to see we had some rivalries but we can come together on the ice and be good friends off the ice too.”
Gruner said one of the challenges has been learning about all of her new teammates because team bonding activities are not allowed this season.
The DC Diamonds Red team will play at the Green Bay Bobcats on Friday. The DC Diamonds will play a minimum of four games in a tournament in Omaha, Nebraska Jan. 15-18. The tournament could include as many as six games if the etam makes a run to the championship. The DC Diamonds will compete in a tournament in Grand Rapids, Michigan Jan. 30-31 with a minimum of two games. The team will then play a minimum of four games in a tournament Feb. 5-7 in Brookings, South Dakota.
“With the girls in Wisconsin we are good, but a lot of the out of state etams, especially Minnesota have some great teams,” Newton said. “Playing teams like that pushes us and makes us work harder.”
Newton plans to be a veterinarian and will attend Madison College. She said she’s planning on transferring to Marian University to play women’s hockey.