On Saturday, a season-high crowd of 7,757, tossed 7,631 bears on the ice during the team’s annual Teddy Bear Toss. In its 19th year, the Teddy Bear Toss has collected nearly 108,000 stuffed animals. The Gamblers thank WPS Health Insurance, “Presenting” sponsor of Teddy Bear Toss.
It did not take long for the fur to hit the ice, as forward McKade Webster redirected a shot from the point by Ryan Verrier, 5-minutes and 12-seconds into the game.
In the 19-year history of the Teddy Bear Toss the Gamblers have donated nearly 108,000 stuffed animals to the patients in the Aurora Bay Pediatric Care units and other charities across Northeast Wisconsin that focus on the family.
Dating back to 2000, the Teddy Bear Toss is a one time yearly event, where fans are asked to bring a new Teddy Bear to the designated game. When the Gamblers score their first goal, fans are encouraged to throw their bear(s) on the ice. In its first year, the team collected a little over 400 bears.
Along with WPS Health Insurance, the Gamblers also thank the fans and supporting partners Aurora BayCare, Green Bay Preble High School FFA, Green Bay Press Gazette, Menominee Casino Resort, The Fan 107.5 FM, WAPL, WIXX, WNCY, WZOR, Fox 11 and WFRV.
Gamblers forward Danny DiGrande has been through a lot in his three years in the USHL. From being traded to season-ending injuries, DiGrande’s emotions have run the gamut. Now in Green Bay, DiGrande looks for one last shot at the Clark Cup.
Growing up in Macomb, Michigan, a northern suburb of Detroit, DiGrande first laced up the skates at two-years old with a little encouragement from his dad and brother.
“My dad always loved to play hockey while he was growing up, but never played seriously. He then got my older brother into hockey. And me – I always wanted to be like my older brother,” said DiGrande who credits his start in hockey to his older brother. “Watching my older brother really drove me to play hockey because watching him I knew I wanted to be just like him.”
DiGrande along with his two brothers grew up playing hockey. Playing alongside his older brother Marc allowed DiGrande to play with the older kids.
“Playing up two years really pushed me to become the player I am. I played with my older brother for about six years,” said DiGrandi who transitioned down to playing one year-up, then eventually to playing in his own age division when contact-hockey began. “I think one of the best parts of playing youth hockey was being able to play with my older brother for almost my entire life.”
Marc just graduated from Michigan State University and is applying to medical school. DiGrande’s younger brother Joey, who despite only a sophomore in high school, is a business owner.
DiGrande has continued his progression on the ice. His abilities have led to playing in some of the top leagues in Michigan and the United States. Beginning in 2013, DiGrande played two seasons with the AAA Oakland Jr. Grizzlies U16 and U18 teams.
“It was the best seasons of my life. It was a really great group of guys to play alongside and the coaches made the experience even more fun for me,” said DiGrande.
In his junior year of high school, DiGrande started getting interest from a number of USHL teams. DiGrande first foray in the USHL was at the Lincoln Stars tryout camp. Although he participated in the Stars All-Star game he was not given a spot on the roster.
With a little encouragement from his parents, DiGrande bypassed playing in the NAHL and returned home to play another year of AAA hockey.
In 2015, DiGrande was selected by the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the 2nd round of the USHL Phase II Entry Draft. After starting the year in Muskegon, Digrande was sent to the Springfield Blues of the NAHL. After producing five points in five games, DiGrande returned to Muskegon. The highlight of the year for DiGrande was notching a hat trick. In all DiGrande would appear in 37 games, recording three goals and four assists.
That following summer, DiGrande received a call while on the golf course, telling him he had been traded to the Tri City Storm. With the Storm, DiGrande tallied nine goals and seven assists in 37 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury on Valentine’s Day.
With the injury, DiGrande went home to Macomb for the remainder of the season. Back home, he took all of the necessary strides to get back on the ice.
DiGrande was again on the move prior to 2017-18 campaign. This time his rights were traded to the Waterloo Black Hawks. DiGrande would see action in 18 games with the Black Hawks before being traded to Green Bay. Ironically, the trade for DiGrande became a priority when the Gamblers lost Assistant Captain Matt Jennings to a season-ending knee injury.
“They really welcomed me and that made it a really easy transition for me being here,” said DiGrande of the Gamblers organization.
In 12 games with the Gamblers, DiGrande has accumulated four points with one goal and three assists.
“I have no complaints at all,” says DiGrande. “The fans and my host family have welcomed me with open arms. This being my third trade, they’ve made it really easy on me. I have a great roommate, teammates, and great coaches. Green Bay is a great junior hockey town overall.”
In the fall of 2018 DiGrande will arrive on the campus of RPI in Troy, New York. DiGrande had multiple schools, who were interested in his talents, but after seeing Huston Field House, RPI’s hockey arena and meeting the team, DiGrande felt assured of his choice.
“I was talking to a couple of schools when RPI flew me out for a visit. So, I went there with an open-mind,” said DiGrande. “My dad met me there which made things a little bit easier. When I landed the coaches picked me up and right when we got on campus – I knew I loved the place.”
While at RPI, DiGrande plans to study business in hopes of following in his dad’s footsteps to one day becoming a business owner.
“If the pro-hockey option is there for me after college, that is obviously a dream of mine. But I know that after hockey there has to be a plan. So, it’s going to be the business route for me.”
DiGrande has tackled a lot in his three seasons of hockey at the junior level. From trades to season ending injuries, he shows that the unpredictability of everyday life will not stop him from living out his dreams.
By: Kelcee Kent (02/14/18)
Robert “Rory” Herman (18) is a true West Coast kid with firm Southern California roots. From the sunny San Diego suburbs, the Poway, California native and Green Bay Gamblers forward started his hockey career out on what he feels was a fortuitous encounter.
Herrman got his first taste of hockey when he was a young kid after his parents bought San Diego Gulls season tickets. At the time, the Gulls were a minor pro team in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL).
The family’s tickets were on the glass next to the visitor’s bench, and that more than anything impacted a young Herrman’s outlook on the game.
“It was practically like you were in the game. Sitting next to the visitor’s bench, seeing the players and watching the game – it was an immediate connection for me. Hockey was something that I wanted to do.”
But it was by chance that Herrman decided to give hockey a try.
“We had season tickets for about three straight years before the Gulls moved from San Diego. I consider this lucky, because I was young and playing several other sports. I truly feel like if we never had those tickets, I would be playing a different sport right now.”
The Gulls were on hiatus from San Diego for about ten years, until the Anaheim Ducks (NHL) organization decided to bring their AHL (American Hockey League) team to San Diego, bringing the Gulls back to the area in a higher league.
After some inspiration from watching the Gulls, a five-year-old Herrman knew playing hockey was next for him. His dad bought him a pair of roller hockey skates, and there was no turning back.
On the West Coast, most kids get their start in ice hockey with the help of roller hockey.
Roller hockey coaches Bob Gauthier along with Ron Smith jumpstarted Herrman in the sport.
“I can’t say enough about the roller hockey community in San Diego. Gauthier and Smith (they) are still coaching roller hockey today at the same rink I started in when I was a kid. I can’t thank them enough for my start,” said Herrman.
While some Cali kids choose to continue down the roller hockey path, Herrman made the move to the ice. At nine years old, he told his dad that he wanted to play ice hockey.
With Herrman’s parents on board, they purchased equipment and headed to their closest ice hockey arena, the San Diego Ice Arena.
“We essentially called the hockey director and showed up with my ice gear on a Friday night for a youth skate,” said Herrman. “I was able to jump right in. My skating ability and puck handling from roller hockey transitioned over very well, and I felt that helped in my learning process.”
Herman played his first year of ice hockey under Craig Sterling and Martin St. Amour, a retired pro who played for the Ottawa Senators and a former player and coach of Herrman’s hockey inspiration, the San Diego Gulls ECHL team.
After spending a few years learning his craft in San Diego, Herrman began to travel to Las Angeles four times a week to play at a more advanced level.
In L.A., Herrman played for the L.A. Junior Kings. That year Herrman and his team would go on to win the Bantam AAA State Championship. That state championship win would send the Junior Kings to participate in nationals at Cornerstone Community Ice Center, in Ashwaubenon. An ironic setting for a now-Gambler.
“As Gamblers, we have practices at Cornerstone, so it’s kind of funny looking back and thinking that I’ve been there before for nationals,” says Herrman on his nostalgic experience.
During his time with the Kings, Herrman found himself being scouted by east coast prep schools during a hockey tournament in New Hampshire. By his sophomore year, Herrman moved to New Hampton, New Hampshire to attend and play prep hockey at the New Hampton School.
In what he describes as one of the best years of his life, Herrman attributes his prep school hockey experience and success to his coach, Casey Kesselring.
“I felt like I had a really good year, and I owe that to my coach. It was the first year that I could think about Division I hockey being a possibility in my future, and is was an opportunity for me to look into east coast colleges.”
With his first year of prep school in the books, Herrman was set to go back to the New Hampton School for his junior year, but with a passing in the family he made the tough decision to return home to California.
Back in Cali, Herrman did not miss a beat. He began playing with the Anaheim Jr. Ducks.
“I had a really strong year with the Ducks and I was able to get noticed by the Gamblers organization. I was drafted by them later that year, and I have had the opportunity to be here in Green Bay ever since.”
Currently, Herman is in his second-year with the Gamblers, posting eight goals and eight assists in 34 games.
“Going into my first year with the Gamblers, I knew I had to be the hardest working guy out there. Now in my second year, I think it’s important to bring that same attitude. I pride myself on working as hard as I possibly can to get better every day,” said Herrman on his two years with the Gamblers. “With that being said, I feel like we have a really strong group of guys and a core group of returners that bring leadership and a strong work ethic to the ice every day.”
As Herrman looks to his hockey future, he remains in the present.
“I really let things take care of themselves. I want to play Division I hockey, and I want to play in the NHL,” says Herrman. “But I know that it all takes time and hard work. I’m here in Green Bay right now, and I think it’s important to focus on now. We want to win a Clark Cup. We want to win here before thinking of anything else.”
Along with Herrman’s own ambition comes an extensive family support system. Rory’s parents, Greg and Teresa have been huge influences on his hockey career and athleticism.
San Diego native, Greg, grew up in true Californian style – on the beach surfing, scuba diving and fishing. He was a notable athlete, holding a rugby career for over twenty years.
Teresa moved to the United States from Liverpool, England in her early twenties to attend college in San Diego, where her brother was also attending school and playing Division I soccer.
Herrman himself is a dual citizen, and visits family in England at any opportunity.
“I have had a lot of great support. A lot of influential coaches helped me get to where I am. But from my parents I have always had really strong support.”
To this day, the Herrman family have maintained their San Diego Gulls fandom, and still have their season tickets on the glass at Valley View Casino Center.
“My parents go to every game. And I’ve even been fortunate enough to catch a few games in my last two years that I have been away from home,” says Herrman.
Herrman, who most recently caught a Gulls game over the USHL’s winter break, said it felt nostalgic.
“Being at the game over break was almost touching. Walking around the rink was a crazy feeling. That’s pretty much where I got my start, and to see how far I have come, it really brought back a lot of memories.”
For Herrman, the difference in lifestyle and climate from the coast to the Frozen Tundra of Green Bay makes no apparent difference. He lives in the present moment and is focused on the game he loves and becoming a better player to reach his ultimate dream.
“Playing hockey and being from the west coast, I represent my city, Poway, and San Diego, and even California. I can’t say thank you enough to all the people back home that have played a part in my career thus far, but I’m looking forward to a future of hard work that will make them proud.”
By: Kelcee Kent (February, 6th 2018)
Green Bay Gamblers forward McKade Webster and his sister Makenna are spearheading a youth movement. The siblings are both the youngest players on their teams, but there on-ice performance shows that age is just a number.
Hailing from St. Louis, Missouri Mckade (17) stumbled upon the game of hockey after watching his older cousin play. Under the tutelage of former St. Louis Blues players Doug Weight, Bill Guerin and Paul Cavallini, McKade quickly developed a passion for the game
“They helped give me my passion towards hockey early on and helped me figured out what I wanted to do with that passion, and developed me into a (hockey) player,” said Webster.
Originally starting out as a figure skater, McKenna decided to transition into playing hockey. She proved to be a quick study and soon found herself having success.
With both ingrained into the St. Louis hockey community, Webster’s joined the prestigious Jr. Blues hockey program.
“We played for the Junior Blues growing up and sometimes, I would get the opportunity to help out at her practices. We were always skating together,” said Webster of the sibling’s early hockey career.
After playing on their respective teams within the Juniors Blues organization, both McKade and Makenna began prep school at Shattuck-Saint Mary’s in Faribault, Minnesota.
Shattuck St. Mary’s alumni list includes the elite of the NHL including Sidney Crosby (Pittsburg Penguins), Johnathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks), Zach Parise (Minnesota Wild) and several other notable players.
Currently, Makenna is a sophomore at Shattuck playing on the Girls Prep hockey team and is already committed to the University of Wisconsin. Perhaps more impressively, she recently collected a gold medal with the USA U18 Women’s team at the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Women’s World Championships in Dmitrov, Russia.
Makenna led the team in scoring, collecting nine points throughout the tournament. In a preliminary round game against Sweden, Webster netted the game winner in overtime. For her efforts, Makenna was named a top three player for the U.S.
“She is the type of person who doesn’t get phased by the big moment at all. She was just 15 in a U18 tournament and was one of the youngest players there playing alongside high school seniors and college freshmen,” said McKade of his younger sister’s impressive World Championship tournament.
McKade who spent his previous year playing at Shattuck as well, began his rookie USHL season earlier this fall. Webster, who has picked up five goals and eight assists so far this season, is the youngest player on the Gamblers roster.
“It’s definitely an adjustment. It is a really tough, fast league for young players. After my first few games, I started to build up my confidence, take chances, and try to make plays. I’ve learned that you have to build on the games you play to improve and develop throughout the year,” said Webster. “It’s a serious league, and I feel like I understand that and take that commitment seriously.”
Although young and just getting his first taste of the USHL, Webster has had nothing short of on-ice success which he attributes to several factors.
“Having great teammates helps a lot. But finding my confidence this season was key. I know that my first games were not my best, but after putting in a lot of hard work I started seeing a lot of mid-season success,” said Webster.
Webster is committed to Yale University in New Haven Connecticut. The Ivy League university is home to the oldest collegiate hockey team in the United States and encompasses both an impeccable athletic and academic reputation.
“When choosing to commit to Yale, I took into consideration both athletics and academics. If it ever comes down to it, I think it is important to keep in mind a future after hockey, and Yale allows both,” said Webster.
Athletically, the Bulldogs won the 2013 NCAA Men’s Division I Ice Hockey Tournament.
“I really like the recruiting class I have with me. A bunch of young commits that they have are a lot of my buddies, so I really like the program that I’m headed towards,” said Webster.
Academically, Webster is looking toward pursuing a degree in law. Both of Webster’s parents are lawyers, and he has plans to follow in their footsteps.
Both McKade and McKenna are exceptional talents on the ice. Both also share a passion for the game. And despite being apart, it’s that passion that bonds them together.
“Hockey has always been our mutual interest, so we’ve always shared that same passion. We are on similar roads, towards Division I schools, and that’s kept us really close and motivated, “ says Webster.
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