A popular former member of the Dells Ducks junior hockey team, David Kaplan has taken the next step in his hockey career, announcing recently his signing with the University of Wisconsin-Superior Yellowjackets NCAA Division III hockey team.
Kaplan, 20, from Vernon Hills, IL enjoyed his best offensive season ever in 2015-16, with the Ducks, collecting 46 points and sharing the team lead for goals scored during the season with 25. That total tied him with teammate Andy Williams, a native of Fort Worth TX – both even with former Ducks player Yari Neitenbach in a three-way tie for the eighth-highest single season goals total on the team.
Kaplan’s offense with the Ducks came from hard work as he was not shy about going to the crease, getting to pucks in the ‘dirty’ areas. A majority of his 25 goals were jammed home from that spot at the top of the crease.
Ducks fans still remember Kaplan fondly, as well as all the members from the championship team and that feeling is certainly mutual, the young forward saying that played some part in his decision to bring his act back to the Dairy State.
“Having a little bit of a background in Wisconsin influenced (the decision),” said Kaplan. Being so far away last few seasons, I wanted to get back to the Midwest. My conversations with Coach McKenna were always really positive.”
Kaplan moved on from the Ducks to the Kenai River Brown Bears of the North American Hockey League (Tier II) and added 29 more points to his total (14g, 15a).
With the Ducks, the young power forward showed beyond his years maturity both on and off the ice, impressing Head Coach Bill Zaniboni enough that the coach stepped out of his own comfort zone a bit and presented him with the ‘A’ for his jersey - a rarity for a rookie. Kaplan stepped easily into the role on an interesting transitional team that included few returners, but an abundance of veteran junior experience.
A leader both by example on the ice and positive reinforcement to his teammates off the ice, Kaplan played a key role on a team that wrapped up the season returning to an exuberant crowd of Ducks fans at the Poppy Waterman Ice Arena with the Championship trophy in hand.
The young forward progressed, but didn’t change his style of play in Alaska, including that aggressive style in front of the net.
“Honestly I couldn’t tell you the last time I scored a goal above the hashmarks. I’m comfortable playing (in the crease area),” said Kaplan.
UW-Superior Head Coach Rich McKenna is entering his third season as Head Coach of the Yellow Jackets, but the 34-Year-Old bench boss has a decade-long history moving through the ranks with stops at both the Division I and Division III level as an assistant coach, honing his craft in the USHL with the Muskegon Lumberjacks where he held several management positions and finally to Superior.
Kaplan said he started generating interest from schools as early as the season opening tournament in Blaine this season and he mulled over several schools. He started narrowing down his choices by the end of the regular season but his appearance in the North American Hockey League’s Prospect tournament at the end of February generated new interest and offers.
While a lot of factors, including the desire to be back in the Midwest, played into his decision, Kaplan said the success of coach McKenna was a big factor for him.
“Coach McKenna took over two years ago. Most of the guys (there now) are guys he brought in so it’s going to be interesting (this season). He’s had success everywhere he’s gone. The growth Superior has had from before he’s had to now (is notable). Hopefully see us make a resurgence (in the WIAC).”
While Kaplan is thrilled to be playing for coach McKenna, the coach will be getting a valuable commodity. A player that never quits on the ice and makes his presence felt off the ice as well.
Kaplan said he took a few online classes at Kenai, but he also spent a great deal of time helping at the local Boys and Girls club as a mentor His involvement was noticed, and Kaplan received the Midwest Division Community Service Award at the end of the season.
True to his character, Kaplan deflected the praise for the honor as deftly as he did pucks from the top of the crease when he played for the Ducks.
“I wasn’t the only one going all of the time. It’s more of a team award.”
Back in Illinois, ‘Kap’ as he is known by most has been able to relax for a few weeks since the end of the season and he spent last week in Bahamas on a family vacation.
But it’s ‘game on’ now for Kaplan as he began training on Monday. “This was the first day of the Superior off-ice lifting program and weight plan. Kaplan said he is aware of a few others in the same stage of their careers including one other that will be attending UW-Superior this fall as well, so he hopes to have some company in the gym.
Kaplan is hoping to major in Business Management at Superior.