By Tori Wittenbrock
Green Bay- Sam Kappell and Drew Schock both grew up in the Green Bay area as proud hockey fans and have grown to be tremendous athletes.
“My dad built a backyard rink and it really just started from there,” Shock said. “That’s how I really learned to skate.”
For Kappell, his first exposure to the sport was also through his parents. “Both of my parents attended the University of Minnesota and followed the game there, and they got me started in it when I was young. I started playing when I was around three years old.”
Despite their early start with hockey, both Schock and Kappell have experience with other sports as well. “I played soccer from the time I was three until around twelve or thirteen,” Kappell said.
Schock competed in swimming, tennis and soccer when he was younger, but around ten years old, he began to concentrate on his true passion.
“I started focusing mainly on hockey, but would still play some other club sports, just not as competitively.”
Kappell was the number one pick in Phase 1 of the United States Hockey League (USHL) 2023 draft. Kappell said that he has always worked hard to get to where he is today, his love of hockey never faltering.
“I just love how fast it is and how competitive the environment is. Just playing with all the guys and being around the team a lot is really fun to me. And scoring a lot of goals is the best part,” Kappell said.
When thinking of his future, Kappell said hockey has always been a part of the picture.
“Since I was young, the dream has always been to keep playing hockey as long as I can, and to see how far I can go with it.”
Kappell, although he recognizes that his hard work and dedication to his sport are large contributors to his success, also said he acknowledges the role that others have played in his athletic career as well.
“Off the ice I really look up to my dad the most,” said Kappell. “My parents have contributed to my success more than anyone.”
Kappell said his parents and coaches have been a major influence on his success as an athlete, and as a person.
“Cory (McKracken) is a great teacher who just wants to bring out the best in all of his players and try to get everything out of them. He works us really hard because he knows what we are capable of, and he just really trusts us with everything.”
Cory McKracken’s important role in shaping Kappell as a young athlete has come from his position as head coach of the boys hockey team at Notre Dame Academy (NDA).
“Sam has always been a producing goal scorer. What changed in Sam recently, which has escalated his growth and facilitated his #1 USHL Phase 1 pick, is his ability to be a 200’ player,” said McKracken.
“His offense is a staple in his game and he has always consistently scored at every level. That won’t change as that part of his game is highly translatable. His competitiveness to get pucks back in retrieval and track has turned him into a great player. Now his game is very well-rounded and does not solely revolve around scoring.”
Kappell said he is very appreciative to the NDA athletics program for their guidance during his time with the team so far as a center. “Mr. Koenig is very supportive of our group and is always willing to do whatever it takes to help us,” said Kappell of NDA Athletic Director Matt Koenig.
As someone who has been through the struggles that accompany being a young, prospective athlete, Kappell believes that the most important thing to keep in mind as a young player is to, “be present and love the level you’re at. Don’t worry about what is next for you. Just take it slow and trust that good things will happen if you put in the work. Don’t stress too hard about it.”
Another important idea to keep in mind, Kappell said, is to, “keep with it at all times. Even when you don’t want to do some things, just keep doing it anyway. Almost force it upon yourself, and stay disciplined. There will be times when you don’t want to put in the work and would rather do something else, but you have to keep in mind that it will pay off in the long run. Listen to the good people around you, go to work with them and learn from the best.”
Kappell got his first experience on the rink playing with the Appleton Youth Organization, skating around two or three times a week.
Kappell said it wasn’t until he was around eight years old that he started to take hockey more seriously, realizing that it might be something that he really wants to do in the future.
The next year, Kappell joined the Jr. Gamblers, playing with them from the time he was nine, until around 14 or 15 years old.
“Playing with the Jr. Gamblers is when I first realized the kind of work that needed to be done. I started skating a lot more and really doing things off the ice, like lifting and shooting.”
Success has not come without social sacrifice, however, according to Kappell.
“I missed out on a lot. Homecoming and a couple weekends of hanging with friends. But I thought it was completely worth it. It’s also a lot of fun doing what you love and playing hockey with the guys all weekend.”
Seeing what all of these social sacrifices have created has been an exceptionally rewarding experience, said Kappell.
“I think it’s pretty exciting being picked number one overall, especially to a team so close in Wisconsin — the Madison Capitols. I’ve played in that rink a lot too, so when the time comes for that, I’ll be excited to play there again for sure.”
“It sounds like a pat on the back to be saying that I was picked first overall, but I know that there is still a lot of work to be done to stay there and keep moving on, but it’s pretty exciting for sure.”
Although Kappell has seen a lot of success recently, he said he is thrilled to finally see all of his hard work paying off, and spoke of the excitement that accompanies it.
“It all kind of came fast. It was really quiet and there were not a lot of things happening, but then this year hit and there are all these people coming to my games, and everyone is around watching you. You end up talking to a lot more people and coaches. It’s really cool to hear what they have to say about your game and yourself and what they think of you as a player.”
In terms of his immediate future, Kappell said he intends to heed his own advice, and see where life takes him.
“I’m not completely sure where I am going to go from here. There’s a good chance I’ll probably stick around at Notre Dame for now and play for Team Wisconsin, talking to Madison and seeing what they all have to say about my future. I want to get some guidance from all of them, and hear what Coach Cory has to say for me as well.”
Schock said he has experienced a lot of success this year as a defenseman, being in the top 2% of his birth year — 2007 — and heading to the USA Hockey National Team Development Program (NTDP).
“I really look up to my parents. They’ve done a lot for me, supporting me on and off the ice,” said Schock in regard to his current success.
Schock said his love of hockey transcends the time spent on the ice.
“I just like being with the team everywhere. Creating a brotherhood that establishes competitiveness even off the ice. It just makes the game even more fast-paced when you know you are all playing for each other. The adrenaline you get when you score a goal, or when your teammate scores a goal is just unmatched.”
Schock, too, said that he owes a lot of his success to those who have coached and guided him over the past few years.
“(Koenig and McKracken) are both people I look up to. Whether it’s hockey-related, or an issue off the ice, I know that I can go to both of them and ask them questions and they are more than willing to help me out and guide me through certain situations. I’ve learned so much from having Cory as my coach, as a person and a player,” said Schock.
“Drew was undersized as a younger player; yet, he never played undersized. What stood out to me immediately with Drew was his hockey I.Q. and ability to impact the game in a way that very few players could in his age group,” said McKracken of Drew’s innate talent and determination.
“Drew processes the game two steps ahead of other players on the rink, using that to his advantage to create offense consistently. Drew is the modern offensive defenseman. He can lead the rush or join the rush. His I.Q. allows him to transition from defense to offense very quickly.”
As someone who has had to work to overcome certain obstacles in his game — both mental and physical — Schock said that to him the most important part of being an athlete is to never lose sight of the enjoyment.
“Just remember to have fun. It can get really stressful at times, but the hard times aren’t as bad if you just take a breath and remember to have fun with it. Then it doesn’t feel like a job, it is something that you ‘get’ to do.”
However, Schock said that aside from all the fun there is to be had on the ice, his journey has also been accompanied by some adversity.
“When I played for the Gamblers, there was a period of time when there were a lot of coaching changes, with different people coming in. I never really knew what was coming, but our whole team created stability for ourselves and were able to overcome it. We even ended up making a good run at nationals. Even though it was right before the state tournament, we all came together and did really well at state and central districts too. It taught me a lot about overcoming adversity and being part of a team.”
Schock said that his journey to the NTDP has not been easy, and has taught him a lot.
“Starting about two years ago, there was a state level tryout, and the goal is to get to the National Camp Festival, and then kind of work my way up from there. I had some success with that and was able to kind of get on their radar. And then there was a 40 man camp invite, and I was just really hoping that I could get invited to that, and I ended up getting invited. I went to the camp, had a lot of fun and learned a lot, and that’s how I got selected for the National Team, which is pretty special.”
Making the National Team is a huge accomplishment, said Schock.
“It’s a super good organization. I mean there are countless players that have gone through there. And then the levels they’ve gone to with college and then the NHL. I’m just really looking forward to that.”
Despite being one of the top performers in his birth year, Schock said that there is still a lot of work to be done and experience to be gained.
“I’m just super excited because a lot of the top level kids in my birth year are players that I compete against now. All of the coaching staff and people around USA Hockey are super knowledgeable, and I am ready to learn from them and get that experience”
McKracken said, “I firmly believe that Drew will be an impact college hockey player at the DI level and as a really high ceiling player. He certainly has pro potential. He is a pro already with his work habits and attention to daily improvement,” of Schock’s potential.
“To get to where I am now, I just focused on having fun and putting in the work. I come to the rink everyday and just try to do a little bit of the extra stuff so I can start to see all that pay off,” said Schock.
Schock also said that discipline is a large part of his mentality.
“There is for sure a fine line. The whole game is really a balancing act because you want to make sure you are having fun, but you also want to do the right thing, getting the proper workout in. You have to make sure that whatever you are doing, you still put in the necessary work to get better.”
After countless hours of time spent at the rink to improve each aspect of his game, Schock said that he is thrilled to see where it has led him.
“It’s really rewarding to see where I am now. I feel like I’ve really put in the work to be here, and just sticking with my process. I think the extra work I’ve put in has really paid off, but at the same time, I know I can’t be satisfied with that yet. I just need to keep working. I mean 2% is great, but I’m not gonna stop until I hit the top 1% and then 0.5% and then just keep going from there,” said Schock.
“This year was really a big step for me developmentally. I learned a new perspective on the game, which was really interesting. The camaraderie with all of the guys on the NDA team is truly something special, and you really can’t take it for granted.”
Schock said he plans to spend the next two years at the National Team level and to continue to develop his skills there.
“From there, hopefully I can go on to play college hockey. At this point, my plan is just to keep working hard and see what opportunities come up from that.”