By Keith Skenandore
The sporting world came to a complete halt two weeks ago as the professional, collegiate and high school arenas all shut their doors due to the Coronavirus.
Major disappointment was felt across the nation as athletes were unable to complete their respective seasons, and some who were even in the playoff portion of their season, came to an abrupt halt.
Imagine having to explain the same situation to a sixth grader whose De Pere Voyager hockey team advanced to the Wisconsin Amateur Hockey Association State Hockey Championships the weekend of March 14-15 at Eagle River.
John and Jenny Pintar, Seymour residents, received a phone call from Tournament Director Jennifer Olson, the night before they were preparing to leave for their son Justin’s first championships.
“It plain out sucked,” said John. “This was his first year he was able to go to State and he had a really solid team.
“His team had some talent on it so they could’ve been right up their 1-and-2.”
As for his son, Justin said he was extremely disappointed.
“I was sad,” he said. “That would have been my first time ever going to State.”
De Pere Youth Hockey Coach Bill LaBelle said the cancellation was an interesting dynamic from the standpoint that he had seen that Michigan canceled their championships the day prior.
“It wasn’t completely out of the blue or totally unexpected,” LaBelle said. “I had a little bit of time to prepare for it but during the whole time the kids were going to be devastated.
“They put a lot of time and work in this season to compete for a championship.”
LaBelle said it was the team’s goal to compete for a championship and that his squad had a legitimate shot.
“We didn’t get that opportunity so it was disappointing but I wouldn’t say it was a complete shock from the standpoint of having a little bit of time to prepare for it.”
The team had a group chat regarding the cancellation and held a team gathering the Saturday night the championships were to begin.
“There was a lot of emotion involved,” said LaBelle. “A lot of these kids played together for a long time and there are a couple that we know won’t be part of our organization next year.
“There was a chance to go out on a high note and it was taken. There was definitely disappointment.”
John was hoping to see his 12-year-old son guarding the goal in their first scheduled 12U pee wee game on Saturday, March 14, at 8 a.m. against New Richmond.
He said, “It would have been really nice to have him go and show up. When they work this hard, and for something stupid, it’s tough. It’s a sucky deal.
“It’s just one of those deals were you work from October on to get that shot, and you see the team finally solid to get that spot, and they’re like, ‘We’re not going to do it.’ It sucked for him.”
Justin said he thought his team would have done pretty good at State.
“It would have been a challenge,” he said, “but we would have done pretty good.”
Jenny said she was pretty disappointed after receiving the news of the cancellation.
“I was more disappointed for him,” she said. “I love watching him play and his love for the sport.”
Justin said his team had a record of 23 wins, 10 losses and four ties.
“We did pretty good,” he said.
Part of the reason for that pretty good year, according to LaBelle, was Justin’s play.
“Justin was really a strength of our team,” he said. “He is so calm and collected back in the net. He comes to practice and comes to games and does his job. He’s fairly quiet for the most part and just goes about his business.
“We had a great group of kids and Justin was a big part of that team.”
As for himself in the hot spot in front of the net, Justin thought he did pretty good as well.
“My save percentage throughout the whole season was 85.3 percent,” said Justin.
His dad thought that percentage was great.
“I was very surprised that he was 85 percent. I didn’t think it would be that high. I was very happy for him to hear that.”
John, a former hockey player himself, played for Notre Dame Academy his sophomore and junior high school year until they dropped the program in 1996, then played for De Pere High School his senior year.
“I always liked the sport,” said John. “Me and my brother Mike always played up through school with it.”
Justin said he knew his dad played hockey in his younger years and as his dad talked about his years on the ice, Justin showed an interest from there.
That was right up Dad’s alley.
Justin started skating at 5-years-old and a year later he was competing in the De Pere Youth Hockey Pee Wee League.
“He kind of liked it,” said John, “then he liked the goal tending part of it more than skating out. I think it kind of flipped his bill.”
Justin first took the ice as a defenseman but he liked the big role on the team playing goal keeper.
“It’s having a lot of responsibility,” he said of his third-year position.
It didn’t hurt that he was aware of the responsibility and that the coaches talked to him about it as well.
“It was a little bit of both,” Justin said of that responsibility. But when it came to playing the position of goalie, “they helped me quite a lot.”
John recalls as Justin was growing up and just showing an interest sitting next to him as he would watch collegiate and some professional hockey. Spending some quality dad and son time together also helped.
“He knew the game,” said John and as they started watching more games, “the more he started watching the goal tending aspect of it.”
As Justin began playing the position of goalkeeper, he and dad would be outside in the driveway working on goalie drills.
“He helped me out a lot,” Justin said of his dad.
I think he’s done a very good job this year,” John said. “He’s definitely learned to move much better without the puck and follow the play more.
“His up-and-downs have been a lot more impressive with following the playing and being up-and-down quicker.”
Besides dad’s help, Justin said they practiced twice a week, Monday and Wednesday. Games were played mostly on weekends.
Jenny said the Voyagers had to win two regional games to advance to the championships.
Justin’s chance to play in the Pee Wee Championships are not over as he has one more year of eligibility.
“To get back there,” Justin said of his team’s goal of going to State.
“He can get back out there next year,” the proud dad said. “We go from there.
Mom is proud of her sixth grader on the ice and also his accomplishments in the classroom. Justin made second semester high honors as he showed he could balance his extra-curricular activity and school.
“He’s handled that very well,” Jenny said. “He does a lot of his work at school. If he doesn’t get it done then he will do it either before practice or after practice.
“He has an amazing work ethic. He’s a good kid and he knows what he needs to do.”
By Keith Skenandore