Sam Kappell breaks point record on way to state title
GREEN BAY, Wis. (BVM) — Wisconsin-born hockey players like Joe Pavelski, Ryan Suter and Cole Caufield have made it to the NHL. Sam Kappell is another player who’s on that path and recently helped Notre Dame Academy capture its second state title in program history.
Before helping the Tritons accomplish that, Kappell’s hockey journey started at a young age. He was basically born in skates, and the love of the game continued to develop in his heart.
“I started at 3 years old,” Kappell said. “I didn’t start playing hockey until 4 or 5, but I just kept playing it every year and started liking it more and more.”
His love for the game continued to grow, leading him to join the Green Bay Junior Gamblers. There his skills excelled, and current Notre Dame head hockey coach Cory McCracken began to watch his skills sprout.
“Sam’s incredibly mature for his age from a hockey perspective,” McCracken said. “I’ve seen Sam play for years, and he was a goal scorer retained from the Green Bay Junior Gamblers program, and he was there for six or seven years before coming to Notre Dame. He’s always been a goal scorer and elite offensive presence for the teams he’s played on.”
Moving to the high school level, Kappell had to improve his game and buying into what McCracken and his coaching staff were teaching helped him do that.
“He bought into being a complete 200-foot player this year, not just an offensive player that relied on his play when the puck was on his stick,” McCracken said. “Sam decided he was going to buy into the non-negotiable parts of the game, like establishing body position, tracking and back pressure. A lot of those things turned into free offense for Sam this year.”
Kappell finished with 44 points (25 goals and 19 assists), and he also helped Notre Dame to an undefeated season.
“No Notre Dame team in the past has gone undefeated,” Kappell said. “And just to be playing a hard schedule and to keep winning, playing hard teams and finding different ways to win is special.”
However, it wasn’t just Kappell who helped the program accomplish something special. It included a talented group of players, highlighted by WHCA Player of the Year Hunter Bill and Drew Schock.
“All three of us had a really good connection going,” Kappell said. “We could make plays off each other and make a lot of things happen out there…And seeing all the hard work the seniors put in and knowing that the past teams have gone home early in the state, we didn’t want that to happen again; we knew we had to finish off our season the best way possible.”
The best way to finish the season would be with a state title and for a team that never seemed to lose, the pressure to accomplish that goal could sometimes feel insurmountable. But with McCracken at the helm, the team was able to stay even-keeled and made its way through the most demanding schedule in the state.
“We had a really good leadership group of five seniors,” McCracken said. “The focus was really a day-to-day focus on getting better every day, and they took the next game on the schedule as the next important one, and it sounds kind of cliche, but they certainly applied it. We talked all season about how we want the offense to be a driver of how we think and how we approach our day and how we want to build our team game.”
Having that type of game plan is unique in its own mind. Programs will focus on defense first in most cases, but the Tritons rely on offense, and this season the players capitalized on that plan.
“In our internal side, it was the normal process,” McCracken said. “It showed a lot of maturity for the group just to stay focused on the game-by-game approach, and we played the hardest schedule in the state this year, so to go unbeaten wasn’t the goal; it turned out to be the way that year, and that proves how talented and skill the group is.”
The season was capped off when Notre Dame handed Verona an 8-2 loss in the state championship game, where Kappell recorded a title game record five points.
Sam Kappell is the first player since the 2000 WIAA/WISAA merger to score 5 points in a State Championship game.
Well done Sam! 👏👏@NDATritonSports @wiaawistate @TritonsNDA @WiPrepHockey
— Notre Dame Academy Hockey (@NDATritonHockey) March 6, 2023
“I was very surprised; I wasn’t really expecting it,” Kappell said. “The puck found me everywhere on the ice that day, and everything was going in, so I was happy about that. But at first, I was happy about the win and that we could call ourselves state champions. It’s cool, I guess now that I get to hold a record for, we’ll see how long that lasts.”
Congratulations to Notre Dame, the 2023 WIAA Division 1 Boys Hockey State Champions! 🏆🏒
The Tritons completed a perfect season with a 28-0 record following an 8-2 victory over Verona in the championship game! #wiaahockey #statechamps pic.twitter.com/FOqYVIcOfS
— WIAA State Tournaments (@wiaawistate) March 5, 2023
“It’s a really cool feeling for the young man; he’s a special person,” McCracken said. “When you have the ability to have that type of game in that environment, you want to be the best when the lights are the brightest and there’s no other example of when the lights are the brightest in high school hockey than being in a state championship game and Sam rose to the challenge.”
For Kappell, accomplishing something like that is undoubtedly impressive, and he’s excited to have the record, but he’s focused on other things, like helping the Notre Dame hockey program grow.
“For the younger kids coming in, I want to help them grow, let them know what they can become and what this program is about,” Kappell said. “To become the best team possible and just be great.”
There is no doubt that Kappell is a talented hockey player. He has two years of high school hockey left and the next level may be challenging to reach, and yet he still finds reasons to play the game he loves so much.
“I’m taking it day by day and working right now,” Kappell said. “Junior drafts are coming out this year, and we’ll go from there, but right now, we’re worried about working and being the best we can be and all the rest will come with it. All my decisions are based off of what would make me the best possible athlete and what I could do to become better. It’s what I love; I can’t imagine life without it [hockey].”