By Tori Wittenbrock
GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Gamblers are getting ready to head into their 2023-24 season — which begins on Friday, September 29 — and have recently announced their new coaching staff, many of whom have close ties to the Green Bay area.
Assistant Coach Pat McCadden was recently promoted to the associate head coach position. McCadden became a part of the Green Bay Gamblers staff when he was hired by Mike Leone before the start of the 2022-23 season.
McCadden was an integral part of the Gamblers’ success last season, where they showed drastic improvement in the USHL standings by 20 points and were able to host their first playoff game in four years.
McCadden played three years of junior hockey, winning the Robertson Cup in 2008 with the St. Louis Bandits and the Clark Cup in 2010 as team captain with the Gamblers.
However, McCadden’s ties to the Green Bay community do not end there. During his collegiate years, McCadden played for St. Norbert’s Green Knights and was a part of the 2014 National Championship team. He also spent a few seasons playing for the Michigan Tech Huskies.
McCadden has some professional experience under his belt as well, playing in the SPHL and ECHL.
Before accepting his position with the Gamblers, McCadden was also the head hockey coach at Lawrence University.
“Patty is everything we want in this organization. He is a tireless worker, he’s detailed and everything he does every day is to help us win. He’s earned this opportunity and is a huge part of what we are doing in Green Bay,” said Gamblers Head Coach and General Manager Mike Leone.
New assistant coach
In addition to McCadden’s promotion, the Gamblers also recently hired Mason Baptista to be the new assistant coach of the program following Jimmy Spratt’s departure from the program to coach at Northern Michigan University.
However, Baptista’s ties to Green Bay also go much deeper than his role with the Gamblers. Baptista played college hockey for the St. Norbert Green Knights. During his time there, the team won two national championships — one in 2012 and the other in 2014, overlapping with McCadden’s time on the team.
“I wouldn’t say it’s always been my goal [to coach in Green Bay], because I know how difficult it is to coach here. So many great coaches have come through here, so I knew I had to just keep doing the right things, and if the opportunity opened up, I’d jump on it in a heartbeat,” said Baptista about his return to the Green Bay area.
“My experience at SNC has played a huge impact on how I coach. Tim Coghlin is one of my mentors and the culture of winning he created at SNC has shown me what it takes to win consistently. Along with earning everything, having a high work ethic has shaped the way I coach players.”
Baptista said that he enjoys his role as a coach, and is glad he has been able to see his abilities as a player translate into coaching.
“I’ve truly enjoyed working with so many young individuals in the area and watching them progress into very good hockey players and people. My goal has always been to be a positive influence to the players around me. With that, I’ve slowly gotten more responsibility and earned more opportunities along the way while learning from so many great coaches in the area, which has led me to be able to capitalize on this opportunity and now become a more permanent coach in the area.”
“There is a lot of turnover with SNC players and Gambler players, but it’s great to cross paths with some of the players when I play more, and it will be great to be around more alumni and be a part of the Gambler family now,” said Baptista.
Baptista also said that he is thrilled to be thrown into the same circle as some familiar players from his past.
“I’m very excited to work with Mike and am very thankful for the opportunity! Patty is a great friend and someone I’ve had the pleasure of winning a national championship alongside. We share the same values and have a great relationship outside of the rink, which was one of the reasons that made this decision so easy. He’s the definition of excellence, and I look forward to working with him and the rest of the staff this season.”
In addition, Baptista said he cannot wait to see where this new position takes him and to begin working with a new crop of athletes.
“I look forward to working with such amazing young hockey players. I’ve seen how good the players are and I’m excited to play a bigger role in developing players into the best version of themselves. Lastly, the Gamblers have a culture of winning, and after the huge strides the group made last year, I’m excited to build on that and work towards winning a championship, as that’s always the end goal of this great program.”
Baptista’s role will center around skill development and special teams.
Baptista, too, has professional playing experience through his six seasons spent in the ECHL and the SPHL. He played in 297 career games, totalling 197 points through 79 goals and 108 assists with the five different teams for which he played.
New goalie coordinator
Yet another new addition to the Gamblers coaching staff is Goalie Coordinator and Assistant Coach Chris Nell.
“I’m most looking forward to building relationships with the players and having conversations to get them to a spot where they are ready to take the next step, whatever that might be,” said Nell of his excitement for this new position.
Nell, too, is quite familiar with the Green Bay area. Nell is a Notre Dame Academy graduate, who recently returned to his old high school as an assistant coach for the program last year. He also has coaching experience at Marian University.
“It means a lot to be able to take this next step in my career and be at home. I’m super excited to continue to give back to the area that I grew up playing in. Gives kids a chance to see that even if hockey as a player doesn’t work out, there’s more opportunities in the game than just playing.”
Nell’s playing experience includes two years in the USHL and playing for Bowling Green State University from 2014-2017. Nell also signed with the New York Rangers and spent three years playing for their AHL affiliate team, while also playing 110 games in the ECHL from 2017 until last year.
“While playing I had a set of routines that I followed to try to be at my best, being able to get back into coaching both at the college and high school levels this last year gave me a chance to build relationships with goalies and help them get to a spot where they are feeling their best. Gave me a chance to build plans for the individual, not just a one-shoe-fits-all approach,” said Nell.
“It’s pretty surreal I was fortunate to be able to play the game as long as I did and to be able to come back to the high-school I played at, and helping bring another state championship back was very cool. And to be able to then make the next step to the Gamblers who I grew up watching is almost surreal. Not many people get the chance to continue their coaching careers so close to home. Having more and more kids start to move on from the area makes the next generation’s dreams seem that much more obtainable, which I think is the coolest part.”