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Coaching Staff Bios

Ryan Thomas - Hockey Director/Squirt Major Coach/Pee Wee Minor Coach

Coach Ryan Thomas has coached at many different age levels during his career.  While coaching the Appleton United High School team with Don Hearn, he led this co-op team to their first High School State Hockey Tournament appearance in school history.  He has also coached at Neenah High School, Ashwaubenon High School, the Wisconsin Elite League, and the Northeast Wisconsin Jr Gamblers midget minor and midget major levels.  Coach Thomas is currently the assistant coach for Team Wisconsin High Performance – 18’s in the CCM High School NIT and continues to volunteer his time with various camps and clinics at the mite thru High School levels.

Coach Thomas, a native of Minnesota, grew up in Eveleth, MN, home of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. Since his early days as a mite player all the way thru high school, he has been coached and surrounded by great hockey players and great hockey minds.

At Eveleth High School, he was captain of his high school team his senior year. For his outstanding leadership and play, he was awarded the prestigious Dan O’Laughlin award (awarded to the most valuable player) and was voted to the all-area hockey team.

After high school, his playing career then took him to the USHL where he competed for two seasons as a member of the Waterloo Black Hawks. Playing two seasons in the best junior league in the U.S. was a tremendous learning experience, again learning from the great coaching he received as well as playing alongside, and against, future NHL players. Coach Thomas also played juniors for the Pikes Peak Miners in the AFHL (currently a member of the NAHL). While on this team, he was named team captain and also played in the league's annual All-Star game.

After juniors, Coach Thomas played four seasons for the University Wisconsin at Eau Claire (NCHA Div. III). At UW-Eau Claire, he received the Wallace G. Akervik (Top Freshmen Award) and the Jeff Jaraczewski (Team MVP Award). He twice received all WIAC honors and twice received all NCHA honors. His senior year he was named captain of the Blugolds by his teammates and coaches.  Coach Thomas' name is still in the top ten in scoring at Eau Claire with 56 goals, 64 assists for 120 points in a 100 games.  He still holds the record for most career shorthanded goals with 9, most goals in a game with 4 and most hat tricks in a season with 3.

Ryan currently resides in Appleton with his wife Llonda, daughter Casdyn and his two boys Ryker and Macalister.

Ryan Thomas

Director of Hockey & Squirt Major Coach & Pee Wee Minor Coach

Phone: 920-915-6396

A.J. Aitken - Squirt Major Coach/Pee Wee Minor Coach

AJ Aitken grew up in Fort McMurray, Alberta, and played junior hockey with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.  In his final season of junior hockey, he led the league in scoring with 46 goals and 48 assists and was the MVP of the AJHL.  He then went on to play college hockey at Michigan Tech University from 1997 – 2000 where he appeared in 140 games and was team captain his Junior and Senior year.  After college, AJ played professional hockey for 3 seasons with the Memphis Riverkings, winning the CHL championship in both 2001 and 2002.

Following his playing career, AJ spent 9 years as an Associate Head Coach at St. Norbert College.  During his first stint at SNC (2003-2012), Aitken helped guide the Green Knights to 7 NCAA Frozen Four berths and 3 National Championships (2008, 2011 and 2012). In 2012, Aitken went on to become the Head Coach at Marian University and compiled a record of 36-27-2 in three seasons before returning to St Norbert College in 2015. In his final two seasons as Associate Head Coach, SNC returned to NCAA Frozen Four both years. 

AJ has been actively involved in coaching many levels of youth hockey in Green Bay and Fond du Lac over the last 10 years, as well as an instructor at several hockey camps locally and in Canada.

AJ resides in De Pere with his wife Rachel and their 3 children - Eliza, Ian and Hattie.

A.J. Aitken

Squirt Major Coach & Pee Wee Minor Coach

Phone: 920-737-2366


Matt Carey - Pee Wee Minor Head Coach

Matt Carey was born in Detroit, MI but grew up playing youth hockey for the Fox Valley Blades after moving to Neenah, Wisconsin at the age of 8.  Matt's skill as a defenseman provided him the opportunity to spend two seasons playing Juniors in the NAHL with the Indianapolis Jr. Ice before moving on to UW-Stevens Point for college.  Matt was a standout defenseman for the Pointers all four years at Point.   After college Matt spent two seasons in the UHL with the Quad City Mallards; winning the  Colonial Cup Championship in his rookie season.  Matt Finished his playing career in the Central Hockey League playing for the Macon Whoopie.

Since his playing career ended, Matt has spent time behind the bench as an assistant coach for Merrill, Neenah and Oshkosh High Schools as well as an assistant coach with the Marian University women’s program.  

Matt is in his second year with the Jr Gamblers as the head coach of the 2006 birth year team who place second last season at the CCM World Invite in Nashville.  Prior to last season he coached in the Oshkosh Youth Hockey Association.  During his time in Oshkosh he has coached multiple age groups as well as having spent the last 6 years as the ACE coordinator and the Kohlman Cup Region 3 head coach in 2016 and 2017.  

Matt lives in Oshkosh with his wife Amanda and their two Children Ben 11 and Amelia 7.

Matt Carey

Pee Wee Minor Head Coach

Phone: 920-379-4605


Patrick "Bucky" Gruber - PeeWee Major Head Coach

Patrick “Bucky” Gruber grew up in Appleton, WI and played youth hockey for Fox Valley.  Bucky played several years for Team Wisconsin and was selected to the USA National Development Camps in Lake Placid, NY for Select 16’s and 17’s.  His junior year of high school he went on to play for the Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings in the NAHL.  After one season in the NAHL, he switched over to the USHL where he was the first pick in the USHL draft and played 2 years for the North Iowa Huskies and his last year for the Green Bay Gamblers.  For the Gamblers, he was part of the 1996-97 National Championship Team.  Bucky then went on to play college hockey at St. Norbert College where he was a 2 time captain and graduated in 8th place on St. Norbert’s all-time leading scoring list with 97 career points.  After a brief experience in the Central Hockey League after college, Patrick began working for Kimberly-Clark in Finance.

Patrick will be in his 4th season coaching with the Jr. Gamblers and has significant coaching experience. He initially started out as the Mite Coordinator in the Mound/Westonka, MN program where he led the Mite program.  He then moved back to Appleton 3 years ago.  At Appleton, he coached the Squirt A program the last 2 seasons turning around the program and finishing with a 32-6 record this past season and finished 3rd in the WI state tournament.  He also was the founder of the Fox Cities Select Bulldogs AAA hockey program.  His 2004 group was one of the best in the state in 2014 and 2015 going 15-1 in 2014, winners of the Blue Devils Classic and Northern Blizzard Tournaments, and placed 2nd in the Easton Cup in Minneapolis, MN.  In 2015, the team again had a successful year with a 16-2 record and winners of the Midwest Showdown AAA Tournament and the Minnesota Independent Classic AAA tournament in Minneapolis, MN.  In 2017 Coach Gruber took over the 2005 Jr Gambler team leading them to key victories twice over CYA, the St Louis Blues and a second place finish at the Bauer MoTown Classic in Detroit.

Patrick comes from a hockey and coaching family.  His Dad was a high school hockey coach and is a current member of the WI State High School Football Coaching Hall of Fame.  His brother Chris was a Captain at Yale University and also coached the successful 1996 age group with the Jr. Gamblers.  His nephew Brett was a Jr Gambler growing up before playing for the USHL Gamblers.  He is currently in his second season as a member of the Arizona State University Sun Devils.  Another nephew Matt, was the second leading scorer on the State Champion Appleton United Varsity Hockey Team.

Patrick resides in Appleton with his wife Jill, son Brenden (13yrs) and daughter Brianna (11yrs).  In his spare time Patrick enjoys fishing, hunting and spending time at his kids sporting events.

Patrick "Bucky" Gruber

PeeWee Major Head Coach

Phone: 920-450-0617


Brian Rafalski & Nate Bolton - Bantam Minor Coaches

Coach Brian Rafalski was born in Dearborn, MI and played his youth hockey in the suburbs of Detroit.  After playing for the Madison Capitols of the USHL, Brian starred at the University of Wisconsin from 1991-95.  Having gone undrafted by the NHL, he went to Europe playing with Brynäs IF Gavle of the Swedish League then later in Finland with HPK Hameenlinna and HIFK Helsinki.  In both 1997 and 1999 he was awarded the Pekka Rautakallio Trophy as the best defenseman in the SM-Liiga, and in 1999 won the Kultainen Kypärä Award as the best player in the league.  

Rafalski moved up to the NHL in 1999 after signing with the New Jersey Devils.  In 1999-00 he was named to the NHL All-Rookie team and played in two NHL All-Star Games (2004, 2007).  He has played on three Stanley Cup Champions, with the Devils in 2000 and 2003, and the Red Wings in 2008, while having appeared in a total of five Stanley Cup finals during his 11 year NHL career.  Rafalski is also a three time United States Olympian and most recently been named to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014.  

Since his retirement from professional hockey, Brian has done an outstanding job developing the next generation of elite american hockey players.  His Florida Alliance teams have finished ranked number one in the country for the 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 seasons and have finished ranked third nationally in 2015/2016 and 2016/2017. 

Brian and his family reside in Waupaca, WI.

 

Brian Rafalski

Director of Player Development/U16 & Bantam Major Coach

Coach Nate Bolton


Brian Rafalski and Jake Roeper - U16 Midget Minor Coaches

Coach Brian Rafalski was born in Dearborn, MI and played his youth hockey in the suburbs of Detroit.  After playing for the Madison Capitols of the USHL, Brian starred at the University of Wisconsin from 1991-95.  Having gone undrafted by the NHL, he went to Europe playing with Brynäs IF Gavle of the Swedish League then later in Finland with HPK Hameenlinna and HIFK Helsinki.  In both 1997 and 1999 he was awarded the Pekka Rautakallio Trophy as the best defenseman in the SM-Liiga, and in 1999 won the Kultainen Kypärä Award as the best player in the league.  

Rafalski moved up to the NHL in 1999 after signing with the New Jersey Devils.  In 1999-00 he was named to the NHL All-Rookie team and played in two NHL All-Star Games (2004, 2007).  He has played on three Stanley Cup Champions, with the Devils in 2000 and 2003, and the Red Wings in 2008, while having appeared in a total of five Stanley Cup finals during his 11 year NHL career.  Rafalski is also a three time United States Olympian and most recently been named to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014.  

Since his retirement from professional hockey, Brian has done an outstanding job developing the next generation of elite american hockey players.  His Florida Alliance teams have finished ranked number one in the country for the 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 seasons and have finished ranked third nationally in 2015/2016 and 2016/2017.    

Brian and his family reside in Waupaca, WI.

 

Brian Rafalski

Director of Player Development/U16 & Bantam Major Coach