Riley Jelinek didn’t top the state’s regular-season scoring list by thinking only of himself.
The junior forward for the Sauk Prairie co-op boys hockey team racked up 79 points this season, scoring 33 goals and delivering 46 assists.
But Jelinek doesn’t obsess over his own point total. What he enjoys most is the bond he and his teammates continue to build, both on and off the ice.
Heading into postseason play — a 7 p.m. Thursday regional final at home against the fifth-seeded La Crosse Aquinas co-op — the fourth-seeded Eagles have built a 13-10-1 record around a roster that features nine juniors and zero seniors.
While the roster is young, most of the Eagles players have been skating together since the first grade.
A lot of the same boys go straight from the rink in winter to the lacrosse fields in spring and to pick-up hockey games a couple times a week over the summer.
Said Jelinek: “It’s big for us that we’ve been together and know a lot about each other, especially with our team chemistry.”
As Jelinek’s teammate and fellow junior forward, Camden Desroches, put it: “Playing high school sports just enhances who we are.”
Desroches is another productive component in Sauk’s explosive offense. He has posted 29 goals and 31 assists for 60 points, ranking among the top 15 scorers in the state on the WisconsinPrepHockey.net list.
Eagles coach David Lohrei knows he has an excellent group of individuals: “The juniors are certainly getting a good lesson of leadership and are a proud group,” he said.
“Not only do we know what each other likes on the ice, we predict where they will be and that makes the game a whole lot easier to play,” Desroches said.
Although Jelinek beat out Desroches in scoring and led his team in all offensive categories this regular season, the statistic that stands out the most is his year-after-year team lead in assists.
“He’s a really good teammate, a pass-first kind of guy,” Desroches said. “He’s always helping out younger kids and getting everyone focused, doing what he needs to do to make our team as good as we possibly can be.”
And that’s why Jelinek wears one of the captain’s “C” emblems on his jersey.
Jelinek's point total was one better than Madison Memorial's Parker Lindauer accumulated (78) entering this week's action, which still includes some rescheduled regular-season games in addition to the start of postseason play.
While Jelinek says leading the state in scoring means a lot to him, he didn’t let the statistical chase add to his stress level.
“You’ve got to have fun with the pressure, because otherwise it will get the best of you,” Jelinek said.
Jelinek said he understands the role his teammates have played in his success, and is motivated to help them grow by being a vocal supporter both on and off the ice.
“I’m always willing to go and play hard, but I’m also there to help other people out and talk through situations,” he said.
The growth shows: The Eagles have increased their scoring every year since 2015, when Lohrei took over. This year’s team is averaging 4.83 goals per game.
There’s one young newcomer making a contribution this year. Junior Levi Carr came in this season with zero experience in the sport, but has settled in as the Eagles’ goaltender and has posted a save average of 85.4 percent.
“Everyone, whether they are a captain or not, has the ability to lead and step up when they have to,” Desroches said. “There’s never sole responsibility. Just lead by example.”
“Our goal is to create a culture where the players lead and hold each other accountable,” Lohrei said.
Sauk Prairie defeated its Thursday opponent, the Avalanche, by a 5-4 score earlier this season.
“We will have our hands full with them,” Lohrei said.
The Avalanche feature the state’s leaders in goals, Ryan Wink (48), and in assists, Cody Dirks (56).
“We feel like we can compete with every team in the tournament,” Jelinek said. “We’re not just some slack-off team.”