When Tim Franzini took over the Aquinas Co-op Avalanche boys hockey team this season, it had a familiar feeling to his first job with the Onalaska Hilltoppers back in the late 1980s.
Two players, named Duncan and Dirks, played for his first Hilltoppers team in 1986. Twenty nine seasons later, the same two names can be found on the ice for the Aves, as Connor Duncan and Cody Dirks play for the same coach their fathers did.
"Glad I've been health-wise able to stick around. I have the fire and the competitiveness to continue to coach and things," Franzini said. "I enjoyed coaching their dads, and it's been just as fun, if not funner, coaching the boys."
Chris Duncan was a sophomore when Franzini came to Onalaska. He said it was an eye-opening experience to play for Franzini, his first true non-parent coach.
"He helped me, all 5' 4", 140 pounds of me, back then survive," Chris Duncan said. "He has a unique style and it works and he relates to players very well. He's there for you, whatever you need."
Despite now living near Milwaukee, Chris said he keeps in contact with his former coach, helping to scout upcoming teams and talking about Connor's performance.
After serving in the Army, Chris said he wanted to begin coaching. One of his first phone calls was to Franzini for pointers.
He recalls one game where the Aves had an offensive zone faceoff with four seconds left in the period. Franzini pulled his goalie to gain a man advantage, and it made Chris smile from the stands.
"He still rolls the same way," Chris said. "His recipe is why he's still coaching. I hope he's always behind a bench. I'll watch no matter where he's playing."
Chris Dirks lives much closer, and can be found in his usual corner of the Omni Center's main rink watching Cody play. He also coaches and talks with Franzini on a regular basis.
Connor, a sophomore, and Cody, a freshman, said they were given advice from their fathers about what to expect from their new head coach and agree it's special to play for the same man their fathers did.
"It's just so cool. We're both in high school, both have the same coach. It's just awesome," Connor said.
"It does mean a lot because he gave my dad an opportunity to go play in the USHL," Cody said. "I just think that's pretty cool."
When the elder Duncan and Dirks played, practices were outdoors at the Quincy Park rink in Onalaska and many of the games were played at Green Island. They said coach Franzini's style was demanding, but supportive.
Today, Connor and Cody see the same traits.
"You give your best effort, that's all he asks for," Connor said. "He cares for his players, he cares for all of us, wants us to improve. He's an awesome coach, a great guy to have around."