Staudacher Takes Unique Path To Memorable Season

By: Joel Norman and McKenna Clouse

It is rare to see a change in leadership in the midst of a hockey season. It’s often a bad sign for a team.

For the Mason City Toros, it was positive.

The Toros named all five of their returning players as captains for the 2021-22 season before it began. Brendan Sloth wore the ‘C’ while Jack Campion, Sota Isogai, Shota Kaneko and Carter Newpower were all named alternates. All five were members of the 2021 Fraser Cup Champions and logical picks to lead the Toros in the new season.

That leadership group remained in place until December, when Campion earned a permanent callup to the North Iowa Bulls of the North American Hockey League.

In late January head coach Nick Bruneteau decided to name a new alternate captain to fill the void left by Campion. His choice? Defensemen Rex Staudacher.

The Yorkville, Ill. native didn’t take the typical route to becoming an alternate captain, let alone to playing for the Toros this year.

Most junior hockey players come straight from high school; but Staudacher is unique in that he comes from Aurora University, an ACHA Divsion-II program where he played one season. An opportunity to focus solely on hockey motivated Staudacher to leave school.

“I just wanted something new,” Staudacher said, “kind of wanted to shake up my hockey career a little bit. I found a new opportunity to come to Mason City and play and take the most out of it.”

Available time is a huge difference between being a student-athlete and a junior hockey player. The time demand on college players has been well documented. Teams play at most three times a week in juniors and practice most other days, but that still leaves large chunks of the day open without any requirements for players. Both have their benefits, but Staudacher has enjoyed some of the perks of this season that he was not privy to a year ago.

“I would say juniors is more fun,” Staudacher said. “We get to spend more time together since there’s more free time compared to when you’re in college.”

That camaraderie gained from extra time has served the Toros well and Staudacher is a big part of it. He is quick to smile but don’t let his smile fool you. He is one of the more physical Toros on the ice and even checked an opponent over the boards and into the Toros bench last month.

Staudacher might deliver a big check every once in a while to opposing players but he always comes together with those who are willing after games. Perhaps you’ve noticed after Toros games that a group of players from both sides meets in a circle at center ice. Together, with their heads bowed and knees bent, they offer a prayer. Staudacher typically leads the prayer after home games and it isn’t just for show.

“This is something I take pride in,” Staudacher said. “Just going to church with a lot of the guys and building that relationship is important for me to carry throughout the team.”

Regardless of whether he has brought the boom in game or knelt in prayer afterwards, Staudacher has earned the respect of his teammates. Team captain Brendan Sloth, a veteran of 111 regular-season games combined between the NAHL and the NA3HL as well as a Fraser Cup Champion, appreciates the example that Staudacher has set as a part of the Toros’ leadership group.

“Rex is a very responsible captain,” Sloth said. “I think he understands when it’s important to be serious and a good remodel. Everyone looks up to him, he’s very gritty, he’s tough and he’s willing to go through a wall for anyone on the team.”

That ability to be such an important member of a team began in Yorkville. Staudacher comes from a family of eight that runs a horse farm containing roughly 70-80 horses. Even a brief interaction with Staudacher reveals that values of hard work and respect are in his blood.

His coaching staff noticed that early on. It’s a big reason why Staudacher is the only Toros captain who is not a returning player.

“His leadership qualities on and off the ice, he’s someone who takes charge before you have to ask him,” Bruneteau said. “He’s a guy we can count on everywhere on the ice, but more importantly off the ice as a leader.”

Bruneteau has counted on Staudacher plenty. The 6-foot-3 defensemen is a regular shot-blocker and penalty killer while also working his way up to the Toros top pairing on defense alongside Sloth.

Staudacher has specifically worked on improving offensively and also reaped the rewards there. He finished second among Toros’ defensemen with seven goals in the regular season and even scored at the NA3HL’s Top Prospects Tournament, an invite he likely received in part thanks to his offensive improvements.

“My offensive game has become a lot better,” Staudacher said. “That was kind of my original goal and what I wanted to take out of this experience.”

His experience in Mason City comes to a close by the end of this month. This Saturday is Staudacher’s final opportunity to lace up his skates in front of the home crowd as the Toros face the Granite City Lumberjacks in Game 2 of the West Division Finals at 2:30 p.m. He turns 21 in November and won’t be eligible to play junior hockey next season.

Regardless of when the season comes to an end, Staudacher is grateful for an enjoyable past year. He’s left his mark on the organization through his seven months here. When he thinks back on this season Staudacher will probably do what he usually does: smile.

“I like a small-town type of feeling and this has definitely brought that for me,” Staudacher said. “The fans have been great; I’ve gotten to meet a lot of them off the ice and enjoyed the experiences.”